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Crist's chief of staff to resign to take over campaign duties

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist's chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg, will resign in two weeks to take command of the governor's increasingly competitive race for the U.S. Senate.

Eikenberg's last day as chief of staff will be Nov. 2.

"We're less than a year from the election. It's time to giddyup," said Crist, dismissing the notion that he is worried about his campaign. "Do I look nervous? Just getting to work, that's all."

The new chief of staff will be Shane Strum, 40, who currently oversees some of the state's largest agencies as a deputy chief of staff.

"Today is not about me. It's about Shane Strum," Eikenberg, 33, said Tuesday. "I'm excited for my friend. He's been a tremendous part of the team, and he's going to do an excellent job."

The chief of staff is the governor's most trusted adviser and serves as a key link with other senior staff members, state agency heads and legislative leaders, guiding the policy and politics of the Governor's Office.

The change comes as Crist nears the start of the final year of his term and what will be another difficult budget year because of the slide in Florida's real-estate-dominated economy.

Two weeks ago, Eikenberg denied persistent rumors that he was about to quit. The suddenness of the change is sure to fuel speculation that Crist is concerned about his fight for the Republican nomination for the Senate with former House Speaker Marc Rubio of Miami, who raised more than $1 million in the past quarter and appears to be slowly gaining ground in polls.

What once looked like a waltz for Crist now looks like a potential horse race even though Crist's popularity, name recognition and fundraising advantage make him the favorite. A recent Florida Chamber of Commerce poll had Crist leading Rubio by 14 points.

Asked if a revolving door exists between the Governor's Office and his campaign, Crist said: "No, I think there's just a window of opportunity."

Eikenberg, who entered the political arena at age 22, has campaign experience: He managed the 2000 re-election of his former boss, U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale, and from 2001 to 2002 was the deputy executive director of the Republican Party.

Miami Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

Crist's chief of staff to resign to take over campaign duties 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:55pm]
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