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Coalition survey roils GOP campaign

Instead of answering a Christian Coalition questionnaire, Charlie Crist submits policy statements.

By JONI JAMES
Published August 19, 2006


The conservative credentials of Charlie Crist, already under scrutiny in rival Tom Gallagher's campaign commercials, are likely to be examined anew for his indirect answers to a questionnaire from the Christian Coalition of Florida.

The Christian Coalition expects to distribute at least 1.5-million of its voter guide in churches, bookstores and radio stations starting Monday, just two weeks before the Sept. 5 primary. Of the seven questions that will be profiled in the guide, Crist, the state's attorney general, will be listed as "not responding" to four of them, said Bill Stephens, the group's executive director.

"We were surprised," Stephens said. "We had several conversations with the campaign and thought he'd be submitting a questionnaire."

Instead, Crist's campaign submitted eight pages of policy statements, some of which correlate with the coalition's 53-part questionnaire. While many of the questions were answered, several controversial ones were not, including whether he supports civil unions for gay couples, if he would back a 24- to 48-hour waiting period before an abortion and whether he supports changing the state Constitution so parents must consent before a minor has an abortion.

Crist's written response also said he opposes lifting Florida's law that bans gays from adopting, contrary to statements he made last month on a live Miami talk radio show that he was undecided on the issue.

Crist defended his submission.

"I think we've been very responsive," Crist said. "But I'd like to answer the way I feel."

The Gallagher campaign seized on Crist's response to the Christian Coalition on Friday, saying it bolsters its charges, first laid out in a controversial television commercial this week, that Crist is not the social conservative he has claimed to be on the campaign trail.

In the ad, Gallagher labels Crist prochoice, in part because he had opposed Gallagher's push for an abortion waiting period. Crist, who called the ad a personal attack, answered with his own ad the next day. The ad referenced Gallagher's unsuccessful 1994 bid for governor during which Gallagher accused his primary opponent, Jeb Bush, of siding with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro because Bush supported the North America Free Trade Agreement.

"He could have dispelled those charges that he's not a true conservative right here with the Christian Coalition, and he didn't," said Gallagher spokesman Alberto Martinez. "Charlie Crist continues to lose credibility with conservatives that he's one of us."

Both Crist's responses and the completed questionnaire by his primary opponent, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, are posted on the group's Web site, www.ccfla.org

Of the two Democrats running for governor, state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua responded to the coalition's questionnaire. U.S. Rep. Jim Davis did not.