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  1. Florida Politics

Days after congressional win, Charlie Crist texts President-elect Donald Trump

Voter Hillary Hart of Madeira Beach snaps a picture with former Florida governor Charlie Crist during Election Day on Tuesday before Crist won the 13th Congressional District. Hart said she voted for Crist. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Nov. 11, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Charlie Crist is known for his manners.

So after winning a hard-fought Pinellas County congressional race, the genial former governor said he texted President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday to wish him well, and congratulate him on a victory that has left Crist's fellow Democrats stunned and thousands protesting in the streets.

"We all hope for his success," Crist said.

Trump has not yet replied. But Crist, who knew Trump while serving as Florida's Republican governor, said Washington, D.C., needs more politicians willing to bridge what is now a gaping political divide.

"What our country needs now more than anything is civility, kindness and grace in our elected officials," Crist said. "It's what I heard most on the campaign trail. We have to get our act together as a people. We have to come together and do what's right in the eyes of God, if you will."

University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus said an ideologically fractured Congress could use members such as Crist, who could build relationships across party lines.

The 13th Congressional District stretches from the southern tip of Pinellas to Clearwater. It's a still-purplish swing district, and Mac­Manus said winning it gives Crist bridge-building cred.

"It gives him the perfect avenue to play that role," she said.

Crist, a 60-year-old St. Petersburg resident, has a personality suited to that task, she said.

"Crist's history is one of being of having very good manners and a politeness," MacManus said. "That can sometimes bridge divides a lot faster than entrenched partisanship."

Polite, though, isn't the first word that comes to mind when describing the bruising election fight.

While Crist remained true to his courteous self, the national Democrats took no prisoners in going after his opponent, Republican incumbent David Jolly. They ran a string of ads against Jolly. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee produced the most infamous, a TV spot linking Jolly to Trump, using faked images placing them together. Jolly, however, had distanced himself from his party's presidential nominee and said he's never met Trump.

When told Thursday that Crist had Trump's cellphone number, Jolly chuckled.

"And yet at Eckerd College (in October), he said he had no personal relationship," Jolly said. "I think we know where the truth lies."

So what's in Jolly's future? For now, the former representative, congressional staffer and lobbyist said he's content to cut his lawn, play with his dogs and spend time with his wife, Laura, at their home in Belleair Bluffs.

Any decisions about his political future, he said, will have to wait until January 2018, when the next election cycle starts. Jolly, 44, said losing a tight race to a well-known politician in a Democratic-leaning district proved something — his brand of moderate, sometimes maverick Republicanism has a future.

"I think we're on to something," he said. "How someone can bring a message on how to represent a very diverse constituency."

Meanwhile, Crist is readying to travel to Washington, D.C., on Monday for orientation. He and his wife, Carole, will look for a place to live in the nation's capital. And he has done more than text the president-elect. He also reached out to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and other members of the Tampa Bay congressional delegation, such as U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Vern Buchanan and Gus Bilirakis.

Crist said he hasn't given much thought to which congressional committees he'd like to serve on. He said he's interested in environmental protection and voting rights.

What he won't focus on, he said, is partisanship.

"I've always felt that party isn't all that important," he said. "What's important is fighting for the people."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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