“… but what if Charlie Crist doesn’t want to be governor?”
That’s the question I ask every other member of the Society of the Tarpon Belt — the loose confederation of former Crist staffers and supporters serving as an unofficial government-in-waiting. What if Crist doesn’t want to be governor of Florida for four (or eight) years at this stage in his life?
What makes you think Charlie, who never let a four-day weekend start a moment too late, wants to be back in charge of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the rest of the state bureaucracy?
What if Carole Crist, a beautiful, cosmopolitan socialite, does not want to hole up in South Georgia, err, Tallahassee for the better part of the next decade?
What if the best retail politician in modern Florida politics doesn’t have the stomach for a rough-and-tumble campaign in today’s hyper-active political climate?
Well, then Charlie Crist would need a face-saving way out, wouldn’t he? One that still led to Rick Scott seeing his way out of the governor’s mansion after 2014. And, while you are at it, a way out that eventually would lead to a way back in for Crist himself.
Charlie Crist does, indeed, love the idea of Florida so much that he cannot abide Scott serving a second term. He really can’t. He realizes that either he himself runs or he vigorously supports another Democrat he believes can beat Scott. In Crist’s estimation, that person is not Alex Sink. It’s never been Alex Sink; hence Crist did not endorse her in 2010.
But he could endorse Bill Nelson. Nelson might be a septuagenarian, but he still has enough in his legs to knock off Scott.
“A guy who’s won that many times is always going to be competitive in a statewide election, and I think if he ran against Rick Scott, it would be, probably, game over, Rick Scott,” says Democratic strategist Steve Schale.
Would Nelson serve two full terms? I don’t know. Would he be a good and decent governor? Probably. Compared to Scott, Nelson would seem like the second coming of Reuben Askew.
He would also save Crist from having to run in 2014 and serve come 2015. Because if Crist does run, he likely wins. Every poll says so. So it’s not a matter of whether Crist can win, it’s a matter of whether he wants to BE governor. It’s pure Hamlet. And maybe the Prince of St. Petersburg is leaning more to “not to be” than “to be.”
What’s interesting is that among those who say they have encouraged Nelson to run is Crist’s boss and top cheerleader, John Morgan, the trial lawyer whose Morgan & Morgan TV ads blanket much of Florida. Morgan and Nelson discussed it over dinner at Luma in Winter Park in February, but Nelson was noncommittal, according to Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith.
“It would certainly make my life easier,” Morgan said of Nelson running, noting that Nelson ran for governor in 1990 but lost the primary after then-Sen. Lawton Chiles entered the race. “I said to Bill, ‘Lawton did it to you, and wouldn’t you rather be an executive than a senator?’ “
Perhaps even more interesting is how the selection process for Nelson’s successor would work were Nelson to become governor. The person in charge of picking Bill Nelson’s replacement would be … Bill Nelson. Once sworn in as governor, Nelson would have the power to name his successor to the U.S. Senate.
And who would be at the top of that short list? How about a popular former governor who was your most vigorous advocate on the campaign. And, no, I am not talking about Bob Graham.
Stepping aside for Nelson in 2014 might put Crist where he’s always wanted to be: The United States Senate.