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Politics

'Jeb is a hard act to follow'

Crist will enter the Governor's Mansion without family ties to the White House.

By BILL ADAIR
Published December 25, 2006


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photo
[Times file photo]
When Jeb Bush, right, visited Washington, he stayed with his brother. Charlie Crist will bunk at a hotel.

WASHINGTON - When Gov. Jeb Bush visited the nation's capital, he didn't stay in a hotel. He slept in a spare bedroom at his brother's place.

The White House.

When Gov.-elect Charlie Crist visits, he'll have to bunk at a hotel. It's a reminder that Florida's new governor won't have the automatic clout of his predecessor.

Crist will have difficulty matching the influence of Gov. Bush, who is credited with protecting Florida's military bases from closure, getting federal approval to reform Medicaid and playing a key role in Everglades restoration.

Al Cardenas, former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said Jeb Bush was "a larger-than-life governor. His presence in Washington was treated with respect."

Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the Cook Political Report, said the governor's influence often occurred behind the scenes. When a letter from Gov. Bush appeared on the desk of a federal official, Duffy said the official's first thought probably was: This is the president's brother.

"There's no substitute for being governor when your brother is in the White House," Duffy said.

In addition to the family ties, Gov. Bush had another advantage: Congress was under Republican control most of his tenure, so the congressional leadership shared his political views.

Enter Crist.

He not only lacks his predecessor's family connections, he will have to work with a Democratic Congress.

"Jeb is a hard act to follow," said Rep. Clay Shaw, a Fort Lauderdale Republican who is leaving Congress after 26 years. "He's been commonly thought of as the best governor in America. Crist is going to have to work hard to get out from under that shadow."

Crist acknowledged it will be a challenge to match Gov. Bush's clout.

"How can you? I'm not a brother," he said.

To make matters more difficult, Crist got off to a bumpy start with the Bush administration because he snubbed the president the day before the election.

The president was having a campaign appearance in Pensacola and wanted the Republican nominee at his side, but Crist did not want to be seen with him. Crist resisted strong White House pressure to attend. Afterward, presidential adviser Karl Rove was clearly miffed about the incident.

Crist said he doesn't think White House officials will hold a grudge.

"I think they're much bigger than that," Crist said.

He has hired Washington veteran Eric Eikenberg, formerly Shaw's top political aide, as his deputy chief of staff to oversee federal relations. And Crist said he's confident that he can get what Florida needs.

"We're in good shape," he said.

Floridians in Congress don't seem worried. Although they had a few suggestions for Crist during a recent meeting (Rep. Michael Bilirakis complained there hadn't been enough communication between the governor's office and the congressional delegation), the lawmakers said they were satisfied that Crist would have sufficient clout.

Cardenas said the change in party control in Congress shouldn't hurt Crist too much because Florida remains an important state in presidential campaigns.

"Even though it is a Democratic Congress, they realize the road to the White House goes through Florida," Cardenas said.

And what Crist lacks in family connections, he makes up in energy and enthusiasm, said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.

"If you walk down the street and you wave at him, by tomorrow, you'll have a note from him saying, 'It was great to see you on the street.' "

Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at adair@sptimes.com or (202)463-0575.

[Last modified December 25, 2006, 05:30:48]


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