Why Adam Smith is so wrong about Charlie Crist

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If someone had predicted the day after Rick Scott was elected governor that three-and-a-half years later he would be trailing in the polls to a Democratic challenger who would have raised about $4 million before Feb. 1 for his campaign, they would have been laughed out of the room. 

Yet that is exactly where Charlie Crist stands today, but the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times contends Crist’s campaign is “shrinking.” 

As one Crist adviser pushed back, not only is Smith wrong, his column would not even pass muster with PolitiFact. 

Of course, I am defending Crist against Smith’s criticism. I fully support Crist. That is a well-established fact. But I’ve also been fairly objective about Crist’s campaign, writing in December about Crist’s “lost month” and, most recently, the hubris of one of his staffers. So don’t just file this blog post under, “Of course Schorsch thinks Smith is wrong.”

Smith is halfway right about some of the Crist campaign’s issues, but he is downright wrong about others. He’s also holding Crist to an impossible standard while at the same time apparently forgetting that Crist’s previous campaigns were run very similar to this current one.

Smith, I am told, blogged his story without speaking to Crist or spokesman Kevin Cate. Evidently the campaign and the reporter are playing phone tag. Had Crist/Cate and Smith connected, Smith would have known that, yes, there is a campaign headquarters, staffed with several round-the-clock fundraisers. No, the HQ is not bustling with activists and volunteers, but why should it be at this point in the campaign?

Yes, body man Michael Hoffman was dismissed from the campaign, but he has already been replaced by longtime Crist confidant Mike Burns, a former special assistant to the governor.  In fact, Smith’s headline about the campaign “shrinking” is just ridiculous. How can a campaign be described as “shrinking” four days after it’s reported that the most important campaign adviser to Barack Obama not named David Axelrod is joining Crist’s team? This in addition to Crist hiring one of, if not, the preeminent Democratic social media and technology firms in the country.

As for Steve Schale being “nudged aside,” let me say this: Steve Schale sat in our living room in the fall and said there-and-then that he would not be managing Charlie Crist’s campaign. So why there is this expectation that Schale needs to be CM, knocking on doors and waving signs for Crist, is silly. Schale, as he deserves, is finally making some money by working for several lobbying clients. Why should he be expected to give that up to turn on the lights at Smith’s mythical idea of a campaign headquarters? That’s also not fair.

Schale has done exactly what he was expected to do: deliver the Obama apparatus to Crist and help Crist navigate the treacherous waters of Florida Democratic party politics. The evidence of Schale’s influence is this: Barack Obama’s A-team is driving south along I-95 to Florida and, in the only public poll on the issue, Crist wallops Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. If Steve Schale never does another thing for Charlie Crist, he will have already done more than anyone else could have done. 

For the record, Crist has also hired a full-time scheduler, Katie Bohnett, a veteran of his previous campaigns (imagine how good you have to be at scheduling to corral Charlie Crist?) And, perhaps most important, David Rancourt, a veteran lobbyist/insider and one of Crist’s most trusted counselors, is increasingly involved in both the day-to-day and strategic direction of the campaign.

Shrinking, huh? More like ramping up. 

Mind you, Smith, nor anyone else at the Tampa Bay Times, broke the news about the Messina or Goff or Rancourt hires, so it’s like they didn’t happen and, therefore, they don’t matter.

As to Smith’s contention that Crist’s press operation is “coming soon,” consider this number: 70. That’s the number of one-on-one interviews with the press Crist has participated in to-date. How many has Gov. Scott sat for? Zero? Less than zero?

The reason Scott and the Florida GOP are hiring nineteen staffers to handle communications is because it takes that many to compensate for a candidate without Crist’s openness and downright willingness to engage the media. 

Last Tuesday, Crist took part in a 10-minute gaggle with the Capitol press corps. The questions and answers could have gone on for an hour had Crist not had to go to a fundraiser. 

Crist has always been his own press secretary. Every reporter covering Florida politics knows this. He hands his cell phone number out like bubble gum. But Smith is right. Crist does not have a handler yelling “last question” as Scott does. That’s because Scott does not want to answer questions about whatever is the crisis du jour.

If there has been a lull in Cristworld the last week or so, it’s simply because the man is about to be everywhere, wall-to-wall, when his book is released in February. There will be a multi-city book tour. There will be local news stories ad infinitum. There will be book signings and photos of Charlie with librarians and TV interviews with CNN and MSNBC and every other talking head short of Ron Burgandy. 

Yet Adam Smith wants Crist to be Camus, who in the dead of winter found an invincible summer.

An old Crist hand who goes back to 1998 with Charlie texted me after Smith’s story posted and asked if I was laughing about it because, thinking back to 2006, Crist ran the same campaign then that he is now. Raise money through February and March, then hit the trail in March and April. 

Why that schedule? You’ll never believe me, but part of the reason is Crist just doesn’t like the cold weather and is a good enough retail politician to know that voters don’t either. 

Yes, there is a Public Policy Poll out that shows that Crist is “only” leading Scott by two points. Yes, Scott’s side has raised a bazillion dollars. No, Crist has not raised what some thought he should have raised.  Suspiciously, John Morgan has not delivered $10 million to Crist’s political committee (because that would not be fodder for a hundred Facebook posts, memes and tweets from Florida GOP). No, there is not (yet) a Crist campaign office in Broward County and every other Democratic stronghold.

But the Democratic challenger to Rick Scott is leading in the polls, has millions in the bank with more on the way and just signed Barack Obama’s “dream team” to work on his campaign. To Adam Smith, this means the glass is half-empty. 

I would suggest it is more than half-full.

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.