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Who is running Charlie Crist’s campaign, now that Eric Eikenberg has left

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Now that Charlie Crist has dropped out of the Republican primary to run with No Party Affiliation, the question of who is really in charge of Crist’s campaign continues to intrigue reporters, bloggers and political observers.

On paper, Eric Eikenberg was the official campaign manager of Crist’s effort.  But saying Eikenberg was running the Crist campaign is just as ridiculous as saying Tony Sparano is in charge of the Miami Dophins when everyone knows that Bill Parcells is calling the shots.

Alex Leary just wrote that the effervescent and recently-resigned gubernatorial staffer, Michelle Todd is now the “de facto” leader of the campaign, but I doubt seriously she will function as the official campaign manager.

So who, other than Crist himself, is calling the shots at Crist campaign headquarters?  Some say that Carole Crist is in the catbird seat and it’s hard to disagree with that.  Honestly, I don’t think Crist would even consider running as an Independent if he didn’t have Carole by his side.  Carole has imbued Crist with a new sense of self that, as a longtime observer of the Crist, um, phenomenon,  has been missing from his public disposition since he was a man about town in St. Petersburg. Yet, as intelligent and worldly as Carole is, she is still a political neophyte and Crist is not so enthralled with his new wife to hand her control of his campaign.

No, my sources, both inside and outside of the campaign, point to Dan Smading, a college football teammate of Crist and Atlanta real estate developer, as the Alexander Haig of Crist’s kinetic campaign.

First of all, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Crist’s campaign paid Smading $14,000 in January for public relations work, about the same amount the campaign pays Eikenberg.

Mind you, Dan Smading is not a public relations consultant.  Smading is a real estate developer from Marietta, Georgia.  Of course, he also played defensive back on the Wake Forest football team in the mid 1970s.

You remember which US Senate candidate was a walk-on quarterback for Wake Forest?  It’s right there in the Demon Deacon’s 1975 media guide: Charlie Crist,  6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, with a goal “‘to make the traveling squad.”

Thirty-five years later, Crist’s goal is to win a seat in the United States Senate.  And he’s leaning on his ol’ college teammate to help him get there.

“Every decision is being run by this guy named Dan Smading,” said one former Crist campaign staffer who asked to remain anonymous.  “No one is sure if Erik (Eikenberg) is gonna stick with Charlie…after he switches to an Independent.  So that leaves Carole and Dan as the two people Charlie trusts the most.”

According to a second source very close to the Governor, but not affiliated with the campaign, all new personnel decision being made in preparation for Crist’s Independent/NPA run are being coordinated by Smading.  Only, Smading is the  one who is meeting with each possible new hires.  The proof of that is the p

A third source confirmed that it’s Smading who Crist leaned on as the Governor went through the due diligence of hiring a legal and political team to work on his Independent campaign.  (Crist has attempted to hire several Washington lawyers, including Ben Ginsberg, who are expert in election law, but they have all demurred, fearing a backlash from the Republican Party.)

I guess what’s interesting about this is that everyone in Florida politics knows who Eric Eikenberg is, but almost no one following the race is familiar with the name Dan Smading. I asked (via Twitter) more than 50 political observers and reporters if they knew anything about Dan Smading and only three knew about whom I was asking.

Little has been written about Smading.  A Google search doesn’t turns up much except for a possible grade-school connection with another member of Crist’s inner circle, Chris Kise.

Make no mistake, the person in charge of Charlie Crist’s campaign is Charlie Crist.  And Florida’s political reporters will tell you that Smading isn’t a major player in Crist’s campaign, but its these same reporters who have been blindsided by Crist’s decision to abandon the GOP.  But I’m telling you, Dan Smading could be the new George LeMieux (at gig that worked out nicely for LeMieux, didn’t it?)

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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