Florida Governor to Seek US Senate Seat
May 11, 2009 - 4:01 PMFlorida Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to announce Tuesday that he is setting his sights on a U.S. Senate seat, a move that could help his chances in a possible presidential bid and give the struggling Republican Party a top tier candidate in a competitive race.
Crist's announcement has been anticipated since shortly after Republican Sen. Mel Martinez said in December he wouldn't seek a second term in 2010. He immediately becomes the favorite to win the seat, which is key strategically as Democrats hope hold at least 60 seats so they can stop a Republican filibuster.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer said Crist will make his plans known Tuesday, and said he believes Crist will run for Senate. He would be a top prize for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has been scrambling for viable candidates in competitive swing states. Crist's approval ratings have been well above 60 percent, even as Florida is a national leader in home foreclosures and has its highest unemployment rate since 1975.
Crist, who would leave the top position in the nation's fourth largest state after one term, is expected to explain that he can do more for Florida in Washington, but the explanation may be hard to sell. No longer able to guide policy as a state's leader, he would face a tougher challenge trying to influence a 100-member body that's dominated by Democrats.
George Allen, a former Virginia governor and senator, said during a recent visit to Florida that the governor's office is where the power is.
"Governor's much better," he said. "Heck, I'd make more decisions in one morning as governor than you make all week in the Senate. You can effect change much easier as governor than being on the great board of directors of the Senate."
Even Martinez earlier this year said the best he can hope to accomplish, given the strong Democratic majority and a Democrat in the White House, is to tweak legislation rather than pass major bills.
"That's true of every other Republican, unless you are a ranking member of a committee," Martinez said in an interview with The Associated Press. He added later that the frustration of being in the minority party contributed to his decision to leave.
But Republican pollster Scott Reed said the Senate experience could be different for Crist because of his executive experience.
"Senators that are former governors have an added cachet and they get a bigger role in the caucus because of their real world experience," Reed said.
And he believes Crist can use the job to become a national leader.
"With Charlie Crist the sky's the limit," Reed said. "I think Crist has a huge future ahead."
Crist was on the list of possible vice presidential candidates last year before Republican presidential nominee John McCain settled on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. He's also considered a potential presidential candidate in 2012 or beyond.
Washington-based Republican strategist Rich Galen points out that even after Crist played a role in McCain's campaign, and despite being a popular governor in a large state, Crist still isn't near the top of the list when handicappers discuss the next Republican nominee. Galen thinks a Senate seat could help change the odds.
"The early handicapping of who's the front-runner is almost always centered on senators because the people who do the handicapping are from Washington and so are the senators," Galen said. "I suspect that he can make a bigger splash working in Washington as a senator ... It's easier to get your mug on 'Meet the Press,' so I suspect that if that's what you were looking for, that's not a bad way to go."
But Galen also offered another theory.
"It may well be that Charlie Crist believes that he can be of more service to the people of Florida over the long haul than he can be as governor," he said.
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