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Erin Isaac looks like a sacrificial lamb for Crist's image woes

TALLAHASSEE — For nearly four years, Erin Isaac was a constant, hard-working presence at the side of Charlie Crist, loyally serving spin and positive imagery for a governor who until recently performed capably as his own best spokesman.

It was Isaac who could be heard on TV shouting "Last question!" in an often fruitless effort to stop reporters from interrogating her boss. She helped get Crist national exposure on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press when he was riding high in 2008, and she helped engineer Crist's recent defense of embattled FSU coach Bobby Bowden, which riled some Seminole boosters but earned Crist a lot of exposure on ESPN.

At 31, she had a dream job as long as his approval ratings remained sky high. She was his protector as well as his press agent.

But this week, Isaac suddenly and awkwardly resigned as Crist's $100,000-a-year communications director at a time when the governor appears to need a sharply honed message more than ever. Isaac looks like a sacrificial lamb — or is it a scapegoat? — for Crist's current image woes.

In one final burst of spin, she said she was leaving to consider new career opportunities, labeling as false news accounts that she was dismissed.

But the political universe was nearly unanimous in its judgment that she had been shown the door after weeks of unrelenting negative press for Florida's governor.

Who quits a six-figure job midweek with the holidays approaching and the state unemployment rate at 11 percent? You don't need a communications degree to answer the question.

Isaac quit Wednesday, a day after news broke that Crist had plucked Andrea Saul, a 27-year-old from Sen. Orrin Hatch's office, to handle press relations for his U.S. Senate campaign. Isaac has no job offer in hand, and the governor's office has no one lined up to take her place — obvious signs of a botched personnel move.

In reality, Isaac saw the handwriting on the wall, that she was no longer viewed as indispensable to Crist's political success. It was a surprisingly abrupt career move for an aide Crist once praised as talented, dedicated and hard working at a reception for Capitol reporters.

Isaac's exit offers a cautionary tale: Never hitch your career wagon to one politician, because what goes up must come down.

In addition, she made some enemies in the worlds of politics, lobbying and the media. And Crist, despite strong loyalty to his effective 2006 campaign press secretary, several weeks ago began instructing reporters to call him directly on his cell phone — a sign of trouble ahead.

Once viewed as equal to a chief of staff in terms of access to and influence with the governor, Isaac began showing up less and less in public with Crist.

At the same time, the tone of Crist's media coverage grew darker, culminating in Crist's widely criticized efforts in a CNN interview to distance himself from President Barack Obama's stimulus package, and the governor's claim that he didn't know Obama's itinerary for a recent visit to Jacksonville.

Isaac wasn't returning phone calls after she resigned. But she did send a gracious e-mail in which she expressed gratitude to Crist "for the amazing opportunities."

Crist may yet become Florida's newest U.S. senator, but Erin Isaac won't be at his side. In politics, loyalty has its limits.

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

Erin Isaac looks like a sacrificial lamb for Crist's image woes 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 11:02pm]
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