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On abortion, Crist's position is a moving target

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist likes to call himself a "consistent conservative." The idea is to underscore how rival Tom Gallagher has reinvented himself from a thoroughly moderate Republican to a staunch social conservative for this, his fourth bid for governor.

By Times Staff
Published June 4, 2006

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist likes to call himself a "consistent conservative." The idea is to underscore how rival Tom Gallagher has reinvented himself from a thoroughly moderate Republican to a staunch social conservative for this, his fourth bid for governor.

But on the issue of abortion, the formerly self-described "pro-choice" Gallagher at least has been consistent since he started this bid for governor: He wants to make abortion illegal. The formerly self-described "pro-choice" Crist, on the other hand, has been much harder to track.

"My preference would always be to try to change hearts instead of changing the law," he said in a taped Political Connections interview airing at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9.

Last year, Crist started calling himself "pro-life," but when pressed, acknowledged he does not support overturning Roe vs. Wade. Then, while Crist was campaigning in North Florida in March he told a Catholic priest that as governor he would sign a bill banning all abortions in Florida except those required to save a woman's life.

He later clarified to an Associated Press reporter. He said that he would also insist on exceptions for cases of rape or incest. And on Political Connections, he suggested an exception to protect a woman's health would be "reasonable," too.

If lawmakers were to pass a sweeping ban on abortion in Florida, "I would sign it, but I don't think that's where we have to go. I think what we need to do is, as the president has said, 'Encourage a culture of life.' That's what I would try to do with adoption incentives and other things."

Asked to cite examples where he's taken risky positions, Crist noted his reluctance to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case.

The 49-year-old attorney general from St. Petersburg also brushed off the suggestion that as someone who has never had kids, owned a home, or paid a mortgage or property insurance bill, he might have difficulty relating to many voters: "It seems like I'm relating better than anybody else is right now. You know, I don't have to have cancer to know it's bad. And I don't have to have children to know they're great."

The interview can be seen at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9 and starting Monday at no cost on Ch. 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand).

STEALTH SMITH SUPPORT: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith may have found a way to overcome the narrow fundraising lead of Democratic rival Jim Davis of Tampa: benefactors pumping money into a virtually anonymous separately operating political committee. A slick flier touting Smith's "Experience, Vision, Guts" hit Democratic households across the state.

The flier, which stresses Smith's legislative successes including fighting Republican efforts to weaken the class size amendment, came not from the Smith campaign, but from a group called Floridians for Responsible Government. It was created in February by Michael Spellman of Ocala, a longtime family friend of Smith's and former top fundraiser for 1998 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Buddy MacKay.

Federal records show that through March, the committee had raised $90,000 from developers and spent $16,000 on polling. Smith campaign spokesman David Kochman said the campaign was aware of Spellman's efforts but did little more than provide photos for the flier. One way the committee might have been more helpful to Smith? Include somewhere on the flier what office Smith is seeking. A voter could read every word and still not know whether Smith was running for governor or city council.

FIREFIGHTERS FOR NELSON, SMITH: The 21,000-member Florida Professional Firefighters Association on Friday endorsed Democratic state Sen. Smith for governor and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for re-election.

Union president Bob Carver happens to be one of Gallagher's campaign advisers, but that apparently didn't help the chief financial officer who also serves as state fire marshal.

"Rod Smith has proven to be the kind of leader we need in the Governor's Mansion. Our members are excited about Rod Smith and his campaign; he can count on our full support," Carver said in a statement after members voted on the endorsement.

And on Nelson: "Bill Nelson understands our needs and the risks we face every day to save lives and property. We're proud to have him in our corner."

DAVIS VS. BUSH: Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Davis last week called on Gov. Jeb Bush to seek the resignation of his chief health care regulator, Alan Levine, after a report that Levine was in line for a high-paying job managing a group of South Florida hospitals.

"As governor, I will clean up Tallahassee and keep our promise to Florida's families by making sure that the leaders in my administration put their own financial interests aside and the interests of Floridians front and center," Davis said in a statement.

But Bush, appearing at a hurricane bill signing ceremony, scoffed at Davis' shot and signaled a line of attack Republicans intend to use on Davis: His missing congressional votes while campaigning for governor.

"This is the guy, Congressman Davis from Tampa? The guy who is 10 out of 435 congressmen in terms of absentee, not being on the job, not voting, 10th worst in the Congress?" the governor said. "He's telling me to tell someone in my agency that works 24-7 on behalf of the people of the state that he should resign? No way."

Davis may have listened. On Saturday, Davis thanked the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce for rescheduling a debate planned for Tuesday so he can be in Washington to vote on Homeland Security funding.

MEL'S MOBILE OFFICE: U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez is gearing up to start running a mobile district office - a vehicle that will allow his office to more accessible to remote areas of Florida. What's more, his office has found an ethanol-fueled vehicle. That's the good news. The bad news, the Republican says, is they've discovered Florida for now has only two locations to fuel up: at Cape Canaveral and at a base by Panama City.

"Obviously we have a little issue with distribution in Florida," said the junior senator. Martinez also said that he's still standing behind U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris' Senate campaign and will headline a fundraiser for her in Jacksonville in three weeks.

WRONG LEROY: Another candidate running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination is Tampa businessman and retired Navy admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Collins showed up last week for the opening of a state GOP field office (a couple of floors above Harris' office) in the West Shore area of Hillsborough County, and received unusual recognition from state Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa. She thanked the "former governor" for being there and for offering himself up for service again.

Um, Faye? You're thinking of the celebrated former Gov. LeRoy Collins, who died in 1991. This is his son. He gently corrected her. We also couldn't help notice Junior's response when state Rep. Gus Bilirakis invoked the name of Jeb Bush, calling him the greatest governor Florida has ever had.

Collins smiled slightly and applauded.

BLUE TARP TOUR: State Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, hopes to ride those soaring insurance bills into the CFO office. Last week he kicked off his campaign with a rally where he described his statewide effort as the Blue Tarp Tour.

"I don't think there is anything else that can better symbolize Florida's struggle with hurricane aftermath, than the blue tarp," Johnson said in a statement. "Today, as I announce my candidacy for Florida's Chief Financial Officer, I am making it my symbol of a simple promise to all Floridians; I won't run, hide or avoid the responsibility of standing up to insurance companies.''

Johnson is running against state Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico, for the Republican CFO nomination. The winner will face retired bank executive Alex Sink, who today celebrates her 58th birthday with a barbecue-fundraiser at the Thonotosassa home she shares with her husband, former gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride. The invitation encourages people to contribute $58 (or more) and/or commit to volunteer work.

Adam C. Smith and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news check out

[Last modified June 4, 2006, 05:57:38]

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