Fortunately for Newt Gingrich, Florida, unlike New Hampshire for example, is a closed-primary state, meaning only Republicans who have been registered for a definitive period can vote in the Republican primary. As a corollary, declared Independent voters cannot declare themselves Republicans on or near Election Day and cast a ballot in the Republican primary. That makes sense; red-meat Republicans should be the only ones selecting their standard bearer.
To most Republicans in Florida, the name Charlie Crist is a pejorative. As has been extensively chronicled, Crist, after he found himself down in the polls to Marco Rubio in the 2010 race for the US Senate, left the party and subsequently lost to Rubio in the general election. Because of how poorly Rick Scott has managed the state since he was elected, Crist has remained as popular as ever; by one poll’s measure, Crist is still the most popular politician in Florida.
But that popularity is mostly based on Crist’s standing with Democrats and Independents — exactly the voters who cannot cast a ballot in Florida’s closed Republican primary.
Once the Republican presidential campaign came to Florida, it was only a matter of time until someone played the Charlie Crist card.
In an attempt to tarnish Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials, Newt Gingrich on Tuesday connected Romney to Florida’s former governor, the once-ambitious moderate who fell so far out of favor with the GOP that in 2010 he left the GOP, according to Politico.
“We discovered last night that Mitt Romney has picked up Charlie Crist’s campaign manager,” Gingrich said Tuesday at the Tick Tock Restaurant in St. Petersburg. “I thought that told you everything you need to know about this primary.”
The trouble with that statement is that it’s not true, for a variety of reasons.
First of all, Charlie Crist was always his own campaign manager, so to say that Romney has hired Crist’s campaign manager doesn’t count for much. The only person who held the title of campaign manager for Charlie Crist was Eric Eikenberg and he isn’t working for Romney.
What Gingrich is referring to is, as Newsmax hyperbolized, “that Romney’s “Charlie Crist” problem is this: Romney’s chief campaign strategist and several of his most senior campaign staff were Crist’s top political advisers, specifically Stu Stevens and Russ Schriefer.”
Well, actually, Stevens and Schriefer were just two of SEVERAL top advisers. Being a top adviser to Crist is like being general manager of the Dallas Cowboys: you may have the title, but, at the end of the day, owner Jerry Jones makes all of the decisions.
(As an aside, it’s disingenuous of Gingrich to say he just discovered the Crist-Romney link “last night” when it’s been public knowledge that Stevens worked for Crist for years and Romney in 2008.)
As for those who attempt to link Crist to Romney with the evidence that Romney spokespeople Amanda Henneberg and Andrea Saul once worked for Crist, trust me when I say, Amanda and Andrea may have worked for Crist, but they are not Crist people.
Moreover, there are few other former Crist advisors or staffers working or volunteering for Romney.
In other words, the link between Crist and Romney is specious. And Newt Gingrich knows better. That’s why Marco Rubio has swung to Romney’s defense, stating:
“Mitt Romney is no Charlie Crist. Romney is a conservative. and he was one of the first national Republican leaders to endorse me. He came to Florida, campaigned hard for me, and made a real difference in my race.”
In fact, the staffer show-running Florida for Romney is Brett Doster. There are few GOP operatives more anti-Crist than Doster. Doster has actually, on a personal level, always been respectful in his opposition to Crist. That’s because Brett has worked on the campaigns which have lost to Crist. It’s understandable why he doesn’t like Crist.
Just as it’s understandable for Newt to be anti-Crist. But for Gingrich to attempt to label the Romney Campaign as some sort of stalking horse for the remaining elements of the Charlie Crist faction is not only disingenuous, it’s now, with Marco Rubio coming to Mitt Romney’s defense, boomeranging back against him.