The Fix: Breaking Down Crist's Pick for Senate

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 10, 2009; 1:11 PM

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez's (R-Fla.) surprise resignation announcement on Friday has put Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in the hot seat as he must pick a replacement to fill out the remainder of Martinez's term.

Crist's pick is made more complicated by the fact that he is running for that same Senate seat in 2010 and faces a primary challenge from his ideological right in the form of former state House Speaker Marco Rubio.

We chatted with some smart Florida political strategists over the weekend to get a sense for who Crist is considering for the spot. Here's the current handicapping based on the likelihood of winning the appointment for an interim-only basis (former U.S. senator Connie Mack is apparently not interested):

¿ Jim Smith: A former secretary of state, attorney general and party switcher (he went from Democrat to Republican after a failed primary run for governor in 1986) Smith was seen as the odds-on favorite on Friday. But, Smith's background as a lobbyist has become something of an issue -- the St. Petersburg Times editorialized against such a pick over the weekend -- and Crist isn't keen on upsetting one of the most influential papers in the state as he runs for Senate. Still, all things considered, the sources we talked to suggest Smith remains the frontrunner for the job.

¿ Bob Martinez: Martinez, the former mayor of Tampa and governor of the Sunshine State from 1986 to 1990 (he also switched from Democrat to Republican, in 1983), is still very much in the mix, and would allow Crist to keep that seat in the hands of a senator of Hispanic background.

¿ Allan Bense: Bense, the former speaker of the state House, is a trusted conservative from the state's Panhandle and has been mentioned for statewide office several times before. (National Republicans tried unsuccessfully to recruit Bense to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006.) Bense appears to be the hot name at the moment in Florida political circles, according to one informed GOP source.

¿ George Lemieux: Lemieux is Crist's most loyal deputy, having served as his chief of staff in the state attorney general's office and having run Crist's campaign for governor in 2006. Lemieux was rumored as a potential candidate for the open attorney general job in 2010 but decided against a run. His pick would be reminiscent of the naming of Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to then Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), to fill the remainder of Biden's term when the Delaware Democrat was elected vice president. One big difference: Biden did not name Kaufman himself, giving the pick less of a feel of blatant nepotism.

¿ Jeb Bush: Bush, the popular former governor, would be a slam-dunk pick for Crist but there are (at least) two reasons why it's unlikely. First, Bush and Crist have never gotten along particularly well -- there were rumors (never proven) that Bush helped encourage Rubio to run for Senate. Second, it's not clear Bush, who turned down a run for Senate already this year, has any interest in serving on an interim basis. Crist can't risk picking someone who won't take the job.

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