New poll shows Crist with big lead

He celebrates his 50th birthday and gets his mentor’s endorsement during a busy day in St. Petersburg.

Published July 24, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG — As a new poll showed him with an overwhelming lead in the Republican primary for governor, Attorney General Charlie Crist on Monday touted the support of his political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack.

The poll, by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research for Florida newspapers and TV stations, shows Crist with a lead of 55 percent to 24 percent over his GOP rival, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, according to WESH.com, the Web site of one of the TV stations. The statewide primary is six weeks from today, on Sept. 5, but early voting will begin across the state on Aug. 21.

“It kind of blows your mind,” Crist said, as he announced the poll results at a fundraising event Monday night on St. Pete Beach.

Crist worked as a volunteer in Mack’s first Senate campaign in 1988, and Mack rewarded Crist with a job as state director, responsible for overseeing six branch Senate offices. The two men also led an effort to use the federal antitrust laws to encourage Major League Baseball to add expansion teams in Florida.

Mack served two terms in the Senate from 1988-2000 and was enormously popular among conservatives.
His ’88 campaign slogan of “less taxes, less spending, less government and more freedom’’ is often repeated by Crist, and his support of Crist is part of an effort to blunt Gallagher’s claims that he is the more conservative Republican candidate.

“It was not just a friendship,” Mack said. “The things I believe in, Charlie believes in.”
Gallagher answered the Mack endorsement Monday with an endorsement of his own from state Sen. Charlie Clary, a Destin Republican, and from a statewide group of doctors.

Crist won the support over the weekend of the Florida Medical Association, the physicians’ statewide lobby group.
With Mack alongside, Crist went back-to-school shopping for tax-free supplies with a St. Petersburg family Monday.

He later celebrated his 50th birthday with a campaign fundraiser at the Sirata Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach.

Crist also met with the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times, where he voiced support for a nationwide catastrophe fund to handle insurance claims, higher teacher salaries, the voter-approved class size amendment and embryonic stem cell research.

One reason he favors expanded stem cell research, Crist said, is that his father, Charles Crist Sr., a family doctor, suffers from macular degeneration, a condition that can lead to blindless.

Gallagher opposes the class size amendment and expanded stem cell research — stands that he has said prove that he is the true conservative in the race. Crist described Gallagher’s philosophy as a “recent switch” from his moderate past and noted that Gallagher ran against Jeb Bush in his first campaign in 1994.

“I never ran against Jeb Bush. That’s fairly telling, I think,” Crist said.

Steve Bousquet is at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.