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Could U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young be headed for Senate?

U.S. Sen. C.W. Bill Young?

The 20-term congressman from Pinellas County is the latest name to emerge amid fast-moving deliberations and intrigue surrounding the governor's looming U.S. Senate appointment to replace Mel Martinez.

"He's among those being considered,'' state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer said of Young.

But Gov. Charlie Crist was in Miami on Tuesday interviewing former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez for the Senate slot, and planned to interview two more Jacksonville politicians today. So it remained unclear how seriously Crist was looking at Young or whether he would ask the Indian Shores Republican to submit an application.

"I might," Crist said. "I think the world of him."

Crist so far has asked five people to fill out background applications — Miami lawyer and power broker Martinez (not to be confused with the Bob Martinez who served as Florida governor from 1987-91 and is now a senior policy adviser at Holland & Knight in Tampa); former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jim Smith of Tallahassee; and U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami, who on Monday issued a statement expressing interest in the job and hours later issued another pulling his name out of the mix.

Late Tuesday Crist's office announced he also wanted questionnaires from former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney and from Jacksonville state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, who would be the first African-American senator from Florida if appointed.

Others are expected to make Crist's list, but it's becoming increasingly clear how difficult a spot Mel Martinez put the governor in by stepping down 16 months before his term ends. Crist, who is running to succeed Martinez but intends to finish out his own first term as governor, appears to have no risk-free options.

Consider the names widely believed to be under consideration:

Roberto Martinez. Well respected, along with every other top contender. But at a time when Republican U.S. Senate rival Marco Rubio is challenging Crist's conservative credentials, how will the GOP base like Crist appointing someone who has contributed to Democratic senators, including John Edwards of North Carolina, Chuck Robb of Virginia and Bob Menendez of New Jersey and who supported a Florida property tax/sales tax proposal that Crist called a tax increase?

C.W. Bill Young. Nobody has more Washington experience, but Young has given no indication that he intends to retire at the end of this term. And moving to the Senate would require a special election to replace him in the House. Does the cash-strapped Florida GOP really want to open up Florida's most competitive congressional seat?

• Jim Smith. That whole lobbyist question. Is the People's Governor really eager to appoint one of Florida's top lobbyists, whose clients include health care and financial institutions, as well as tobacco and sugar interests?

• George LeMieux. Appointing his old campaign manager and chief of staff is pretty close to appointing himself to the job. LeMieux is not a registered lobbyist, so in that respect he could be a safe choice thoroughly loyal to Crist. But he's widely viewed as a moderate and will do little to excite the GOP base.

Other well-regarded Republican figures such as former Sen. Connie Mack, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings have made it clear they have no interest.

John Delaney and Jennifer Carroll. The last minute additions of these prominent Jacksonville Republicans added some significant northeast Florida names to the list. But Delaney is a popular Republican who embraced sales tax increases as mayor, while Carroll has little statewide profile. Neither has Washington experience. Some Republicans have talked up former U.S. Reps. Mike Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, or Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, but there's been no indication that Crist is seriously considering them.

"If I am on the list, I certainly think someone would have gotten in touch with me. My phone's not ringing," said Shaw, who said Young would be a strong pick.

"If he's ready to retire, I can see why he'd take a good look at it. The amount of experience he brings to the table is unmatched in Florida,'' Shaw said. "He's been an appropriations chairman and negotiates directly with the Senate. Bill would be a terrific choice."

Young declined to comment, and Bilirakis did not return calls.

Miami Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

Could U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young be headed for Senate? 08/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 8:44am]
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