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Crist may be setting his sights on Gibbons' job

Charlie Crist, the Republican legislator from St. Petersburg who has gotten a lot of publicity for his support of chain gangs, said he's quite happy as a state senator.

But still . . .

He acknowledged that recently he has been considering another possibility: moving to Tampa and running for the congressional seat now held by Sam Gibbons, the Democrat who has spent 33 years in the U.S. House.

"People have talked to me about that," Crist said.

What kind of people? Crist said he was amazed recently to get a call from Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader and Republican presidential candidate.

"He said, "We'd love to have you in Congress and I would encourage you to run,' " Crist said.

Crist, elected in 1992, represents Senate District 20, which spans Tampa Bay and includes portions of St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Tampa.

He already represents about 50,000 registered voters in Hillsborough County, and has long kept a law office in Tampa, as well as St. Petersburg. So he has a presence east of the bay.

But still . . .

Voters usually don't take kindly to a politician who moves to run for office. The rivalries between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties wouldn't help things.

Look at the last candidate who tried this. Karen Moffitt moved from Tampa in 1992 so she could run against C.W. Bill Young, the Republican representative for southern half of Pinellas County.

She settled in a condo on Sand Key _ not exactly the center of this St. Petersburg-area district. Young never failed to call her "my opponent from Tampa" and beat her easily.

She moved back to Tampa.

Last year, Gibbons narrowly won re-election after facing a tough challenge from Mark Sharpe, a teacher and former Navy officer.

And Sharpe said he definitely plans to run again.

"I don't know what he's going to do," Sharpe said of Crist. He and Crist have discussed their campaign plans, but Sharpe said he did not pressure Crist to get out of the race.

Sharpe said he considers Crist a friend _ and he will even if the two end up running against each other in a Republican primary next year.

Crist said he's not in a hurry to make up his mind, because the election is a long way off.

"I'm very happy being in the state Senate," he said. "I find it challenging. So that's what I'm focused on now."

Margo Fischer called this week and confirmed that yes, barring something unforeseen, she will run for the legislative seat now held by House Speaker Peter Wallace, D-St. Petersburg.

Fischer, who is married to St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer and heads a countywide association of school advisory councils, said she decided to run primarily because she wants to fight for improvements to the state's education system.

She said she did not see any potential conflicts or problems with her candidacy and her husband's elective office.

But it looks like she will have an opponent in the Democratic primary.

"I intend to run," said Martha Maddux, the former St. Petersburg City Council member. She said she would make a formal announcement later.

Because David Fischer is a Republican, he wouldn't be able to vote for his wife in a contested Democratic primary unless he changes his party affiliation.

"We share a lot of the same beliefs," Margo Fischer said. But, she added, "to be quite frank with you, I don't know if he'll change" his party affiliation.

Republican chiropractor Frank Farkas also plans to run for the seat.

_ To reach Curtis Krueger, call (813) 445-4174 or send e-mail to ckruegersptimes.com

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