When people talk about the threat Marco Rubio poses to Charlie Crist's Senate plans, Crist backers tend to invoke two words: Tom Gallagher. He was the last Republican who tried to win a GOP primary by hailing conservative principles and trying to depict Crist as too moderate.
"It's hard to get to the right of Chain Gang Charlie,'' Crist said, shortly before crushing Gallagher in that 2006 gubernatorial primary by more than 30 points.
This time, it's striking to see the similarities between the Crist of today and the Gallagher of 2006. Just like Gallagher did with Crist two years ago, Crist tried and failed to quickly shove aside former state House Speaker Rubio by overpowering him with GOP establishment support and fundraising prowess.
And just like Gallagher, a lifelong moderate who had supported tax increases, gun control and abortion rights and faced constant skepticism about his conservatism, Crist's attacks on excessive spending in Washington are constantly drawing scoffs from people who well remember Crist campaigning for passage of President Barack Obama's stimulus package.
"It gets hard to pass the straight-face test with voters, and especially with you reporters," said Brett Doster, who managed Gallagher's campaign and constantly struggled to overcome skepticism that Gallagher believed what he said. "I hate to say this, but Charlie is becoming the new Tom Gallagher."
Not so fast
On the campaign trail and in a radio ad, Crist notes that the Cato Institute awarded him an "A" in its fiscal report card for America's governors. But now the author of that report is batting down Crist's boasts.
"I am pleased that Crist values Cato's ratings because we work hard to make them accurate and nonpartisan. But as the report's author, I am concerned that the governor has fallen off the fiscal responsibility horse since the report was written in mid 2008,'' Chris Edwards, Cato's tax policy director wrote in an e-mail.
"In particular, Crist approved a huge $2.2 billion tax increase for the fiscal 2010 budget, even though he had promised that $12 billion in federal 'stimulus' money showered on Florida over three years would obviate the need for tax increases. About $1 billion of the tax increases are on cigarette consumers. … The rest of the increases are in the form of higher costs for often mandatory services, such as automobile registration, which is really just a sneaky form of tax increases."
Party establishment uniting behind Meek
More signals that Senate candidate Kendrick Meek is getting his party establishment to unite behind him: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink endorsed him, after having said she intended to stay neutral. So did U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who had looked at running against Meek.
Dueling attorney general endorsements
The Democrats running for attorney general, state Sens. Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, appear to be chasing different sorts of endorsements. Aronberg has picked up a slew of sheriff's endorsements and last week one from the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida's second-largest police union.
Gelber has been doing better among key Democratic interest groups, most recently winning the endorsement of Florida's largest gay political group, Equality Florida. Gelber also picked up the Florida Education Association's "Champion of Education" award, which presumably makes him the clear favorite for winning the teachers union endorsement.
Crist too busy for Obama this time
Crist hasn't lived down the man-hug with Obama during the president's last trip to Florida, so it's no surprise the governor won't join Obama in DeSoto County Tuesday to hail Florida Power & Light's new solar plant. Crist said he'll be busy with a Cabinet meeting. He might have come up with a better excuse, however. When Obama came to Fort Myers in February, Crist skipped a Cabinet meeting (and lunch with Jeb Bush and other former governors) to be with the president.
Check out council candidates
St. Petersburg City Council candidates Leslie Curran and Pamella Settlegoode will be on Political Connections at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. today on Bay News 9.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes and is on Twitter at adamsmithtimes.