Since the announcement by Marco Rubio that he will seek the Republican Nomination for Mel Martinez’s Senate seat, news stories and articles like this from the Weekly Standard are making a big deal of Charlie Crist’s primary victory over Tom Gallagher in the 2006 Florida Republican Primary for Governor. Tom Gallagher was (and still is) a very conservative Republican. He has consistently been so and ran his primary campaign on those very themes – fiscal responsibility, family values, small government. Charlie Kicked His Butt. Therefore, logic – and the press – dictates that Charlie has a great advantage over any Republican who seeks to challenge him.
In 2006 Charlie ran on soundbites and clever policy names. He was dubbed “Chain Gang Charlie” for requiring jail inmates to do roadwork. He ran for Governor touting his “Anti-Murder Bill” which would require that a probation violator head straight to jail. Charlie Crist is personable. He is a good speaker. He had a long record of supporting self-made popular measures and compared to the dry, rather wonkish Mr. Gallagher – he shined like a ray of light. I had the opportunity to attend an early primary dinner featuring Mr. Crist and Mr. Gallagher and while I truly truly like Tom Gallagher and supported him, he was completely out performed by the charasmatic Charlie Crist. And Gallagher never learned to overcome that.
Holding seats like the Commissioner of Education and Attorney General are important and they provide a great opportunity to build leadership capacity and enhance your profile in public life but, frankly, those that hold those offices don’t generally get a lot of press attention (unless, like Charlie you’re really really good at self-promotion). However, holding the office of the Governor of the State of Florida means a whole lot of attention and what we have seen from Charlie Crist is an absolutely utter lack of leadership on matters of importance to conservatives.
There is probably no greater example of trying to have it both ways than the Governor’s actions during a Special Session held in January of this year to address the State’s budget shortfall. Revenues were not coming in at a rate necessary to meet the budgeted expenditures of this fiscal year so a special session was called. The Governor did not have a clear agenda going into this session – only that the Legislature needed to cut oh – a few billion – from the state budget. It was a gruesome task and the legislature made some gut-wrenching recommendations. There were those who believed the Governor was on board and would sign that budget amendment. Instead, the Governor restored popular spending measures earning praise from various consituencies from around the state and leaving the legislature with mud on their faces.
These things add up. And Conservatives have been watching. The similarities between Charlie Crist and The President are alarming. Perhaps the rise and style of this President will actually hurt Crist in this primary. Conservatives are paying attention. I would suggest that those who think that the Crist/Gallagher primary was some harbinger of what the anticipated primary between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist will turn out to be are not.