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Spotlight gets hot for Gov. Crist

It's never just another week in the life of Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida.

The first week of the 2008 legislative session began with the Florida Democratic Party launching a Web site blasting Crist for spending too much time off the job.

"Where is he when Florida needs him?" the site asks, next to a photo of a grimacing Crist looking as if he's just been force-fed a lemon.

The site, www.emptychaircharlie.com, exploits the perception that Crist is spending too much time with John McCain — and cleverly uses Crist's own tactics against him.

In the 2006 race for governor, Crist used a TV image of an empty chair rolling down the streets of Washington to highlight Democratic rival Jim Davis' missed votes in Congress.

By throwing a punch at Crist, the Democratic Party showed it still has a pulse. But what the Web site didn't say was that some of Crist's official absences from state business were explained by his stumping for the Amendment 1 tax cut on Jan. 29, which passed with 64 percent of the vote.

If the online blast angered Crist, he had an odd way of showing it. He gave Democrats the red-carpet treatment instead.

Party chairwoman Karen Thurman was invited to the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday night for Crist's second State of the State dinner. Also on hand were two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Steve Geller and Rep. Dan Gelber, whom Crist calls dear friends.

The dinner of Caesar salad and filet mignon brought together more than 100 people, including lawmakers, lobbyists, state agency heads, media members and Crist's family and friends.

When was the last time these two people were together: Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga and Dexter Douglass. The latter, while general counsel to Gov. Lawton Chiles, was roasted by then-Sen. Charlie Crist for the "scare calls" at the end of Chiles' 1994 election for governor.

"Nobody can touch us," Crist said in a brief dinner-table speech, referring to the state of affairs in Florida. "Everybody still wants to move here."

Was it optimism or self-delusion?

The same question could have been asked about Crist's State of the State address, which he delivered at 6 p.m. Tuesday in an effort to reach a wider TV audience.

The 29-minute speech was not Crist's finest half-hour. It was ponderous, with too many videotaped interruptions.

The optimistic tone of the talk was vintage Crist. But it wasn't a very inspiring call to arms.

Nor did Crist propose a specific course of action to the Legislature, which wants to be a co­operative partner but can't stomach Crist's budget-balancing ideas like more gambling and raids on trust funds.

By Wednesday, as the Legislature began cutting the budget, Crist was — where else? — on the road with McCain, raising money in Palm Beach and Naples (the campaign had a goal of $1-million for three events in an 18-hour period).

On Friday, Crist was well into his third day of national media exposure, still seeking a way to give Democrats a way to "revote" and overcome the fiasco of stripped delegates from the Jan. 29 primary.

Cynics see Crist's crusade to "count every vote" as cover for his true objective of increasing the chance that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, presumably an easier foil for McCain in November (she easily won the now-irrelevant Jan. 29 primary).

Not true, Crist says. "I find it reprehensible that half the people I work for would be disenfranchised as to picking their nominee. It's just not right."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Spotlight gets hot for Gov. Crist 03/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2008 11:07pm]
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