Crist tiptoes around vice presidential chatter

Published May 6, 2007

Vice President Charlie Crist? Sure, the guy's barely started his first term as governor, but with sky-high approval ratings in the country's biggest battleground state, the possibility is already generating considerable speculation (Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's people are touting the senator's name too). The Crist buzz grew louder after lawmakers last week passed a bill that would allow Crist to run for vice president without resigning as governor.

So we wondered if Crist would commit to serving out a full term as the (Florida) People's Governor, and rule out a vice presidential bid in '08?

In a word, no. But he does downplay the likelihood.

"They say never say never, but I don't even envision it, " Crist said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9. "I want to be governor of Florida. ... That's all I think about is serving the people of this state."

Time magazine just published a piece noting Crist's potential influence as a presidential endorser, but Crist said he's in no hurry to name a favorite.

"I'm not sure that I will. It will be later rather than early. I don't see the advantage to my state to do it soon and maybe not to do it all, " Crist said. "The ones that are running, I like these people. They're good people. They all help me."

The end-of-session interview, as well as interviews with several legislators, airs at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9 and later any time on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on demand).

Party power

Crist nearly suffered a big embarrassment earlier this year when party activists came just a few votes shy of rejecting his choice for state GOP chairman, Jim Greer. Well, Crist's allies apparently realized they need to protect themselves in the future.

Tucked into the sweeping elections bill that set Florida's presidential primary for Jan. 29 and paved the way for new voting machines, was a measure giving the governor 10 more appointments to the state party executive committee.

What's more, local leaders for either party (remember controversial former Pinellas Democratic chairman Ed Helm) will have to be more careful about running afoul of the state party. Lawmakers added a provision that gives the party chairman much more leeway to remove a local party officer.

Bill Clinton's attaboy

Crist received a handwritten thank-you note the other day from Bill Clinton: "Thank you for your leadership in restoring civil rights to felons, " the former president wrote in part.

Crist tends to invoke Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan as his models, but he still appreciated the note.

Take that, S. Carolina

State GOP chairman Jim Greer (who under national party rules will lose his status as a delegate because of Florida violating the national party's primary schedule rules) plans to be in South Carolina this week for a Republican presidential debate. We don't expect a warm reception from GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who insists South Carolina won't let Florida steal its first-in-the-South primary status: "We have a historical place in presidential politics, and we are going to retain that at all costs."

State Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, is not especially impressed with South Carolina's claim: "We respect New Hampshire and Iowa's longstanding traditions in the presidential selection process, but South Carolina does not meet the historical standard of Iowa and New Hampshire, " Rivera said, noting that the GOP presidential primary is often dominated by the Confederate flag debate.

"In Florida, the issues are much more diverse than just the Confederate flag. ... Florida's a microcosm of the entire nation."

Primary anxiety

The National Democratic Committee's primary schedule rules include strict punishments for Florida breaking the rules by scheduling a primary before Feb. 5.

Candidates who campaign in violating states would lose all delegates, and some party activists fret that it will prompt campaigns to mount only token campaigns in Florida.

"It makes no sense. ... Democrats are 100 percent shooting themselves in the foot, " Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mitchell Berger, a top fundraiser helping John Edwards, said of Democratic legislators supporting the early primary plan. "What it does is make Florida just a beauty contest because nobody will spend money here."

The repercussions should be clearer by the time Florida Democrats submit their delegate selection plan to the Democratic National Committee on June. 1.

In the meantime, Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama, will be raising money in Jacksonville and Miami on May 16, and details are still being worked out for Hillary Clinton to campaign in Florida on May 21.

Gonzales slipping

Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow, the No. 3 Republican in the House, is calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign.

"I had been saying all along that his (Gonzales') future was in his own hands by his testimony before the Senate committee, and I don't think he did well, " Putnam told the Lakeland Ledger.

Other Republicans have called for Gonzales to resign, but Putnam is the highest-ranking member of the GOP leadership to do so.

Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.