TALLAHASSEE - In an alliance that could be important in Florida's political future, Attorney General Charlie Crist on Thursday became the statewide campaign manager in Mel Martinez's quest for the U.S. Senate.
Crist said he will devote as much time as he can to helping Martinez, former U.S. housing secretary, win the Republican nomination because he thinks Martinez can win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.
The two men made the announcement at news conferences in Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami.
It doesn't mean they agree on everything, Martinez said. "He is still Charlie Crist and I'm still Mel Martinez, but we have an agreement that I am the right person for the U.S. Senate and I also happen to think he is the right person to be Florida's attorney general," Martinez said.
And if Crist runs for governor in two years?
"I'm running for the Senate and I have my hands full with this," Martinez said with a laugh. Crist is among several prominent Republicans considering a race for governor in 2006. Others include Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.
Martinez had frequently been named as a possible candidate for governor, but bowed to pressure from the White House to make an early return to Florida and run for the Senate.
Martinez said Floridians will recognize the importance of electing someone who will support the war against terrorism.
He strongly supported the war in Iraq and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, under criticism lately over his conduct of the war.
"The decapitation and murder of an American citizen because he was an American has brought us back to the realization that this is a war we have got to win," Martinez said. "The people we are up against are brutal and determined to just kill Americans. The stakes have never been higher."
As for recent disclosures that prisoners in Baghdad were abused by American military police, Martinez said he does not condone the abuse but said Rumsfeld is an honorable man who will deal with the problem and punish whomever is responsible.
"This is a difficult struggle," Martinez said of Iraq, "but I am sure if you had been asking someone around D-Day whether we were going to succeed, there would have been questions."
Martinez faces former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and a handful of lesser-known Republicans for the GOP nomination. Democrats include former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.