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Former Democrat may be Florida governor Charlie Crist's pick to fill the U.S. senate seat resigned by Mel Martinez.

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Will Jim Smith Replace Sen. ‘Amnesty Mel’ Martinez?

Former Democrat may be Florida governor Charlie Crist’s pick to fill the U.S. senate seat resigned by Mel Martinez.

Minutes after word spread today that Republican Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.) would resign from the Senate during the August recess, a rumor spread like a tidal wave from the Sunshine State: that moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, already a candidate in 2010 for the seat from which Martinez had earlier announced his retirement from, would name fellow GOPer and former Secretary of State Jim Smith to fill out the unexpired Senate term.

In Jim Smith, Florida and Senate Republicans have a former Democrat who was a key player in moving his state into the GOP column in the 1980’s.  As his state’s “law and order” attorney general, Smith was considered the more conservative Democrat in the 1986 primary for governor won by liberal Steve Pacjic.  After losing the run-off to Pacjic, Smith gave only pro forma support to the nominee and his stand clearly helped Republican Bob Martinez become Florida’s second GOP governor since Reconstruction that year. Martinez (no relation to Mel) then named Smith his chief of staff.

Elected secretary of state as a Republican in 1990, Smith tried four years later to win the governorship as a moderate alternative to conservative Jeb Bush.  As one veteran Florida conservative recalled to me, “When he ran for governor in 1994, Smith was pro-choice on abortion but very pro-gun.  As attorney general, he was very conservative on crime but on other issues, I would not be so sure how conservative he was.”  

Smith lost that primary badly and has been relatively quiet on the political scene.  Smith currently serves as a trustee of Florida State University and, along with Mel Martinez, has been mentioned as a possible FSU president.  Both signaled last month that they were not interested in the post.

Should Smith be tapped for the Senate, it is likely he will be viewed with a bit of distrust by conservatives in much the same way that Martinez and Crist are.  Although onetime Bush Cabinet Member Martinez had an overall conservative record, his support (while serving simultaneously as Republican National Chairman) for the comprehensive immigration reform package that died in the Senate two years ago earned him the derisive nickname “Amnesty Mel” from RNC members.  

Crist, who faces a primary challenge from conservative stalwart and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, has been under fire for his stand on issues ranging from climate control to the Obama stimulus package.  

The Smith rumor at this point is just that: armor to protect Crist during the coming primary fight. But Florida sources I know and trust assure me: Mr. Smith’s going to Washington, for another year. 

Written By

John Gizzi has come to be known as â??the man who knows everyone in Washingtonâ? and, indeed, many of those who hold elected positions and in party leadership roles throughout the United States. With his daily access to the White House as a correspondent, Mr. Gizzi offers readers the inside scoop on whatâ??s going on in the nationâ??s capital. He is the author of a number of popular Human Events features, such as â??Gizzi on Politicsâ? and spotlights of key political races around the country. Gizzi also is the host of â??Gizziâ??s America,â? video interviews that appear on HumanEvents.com. Gizzi got his start at Human Events in 1979 after graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut and then working for the Travis County (Tex.) Tax Assessor. He has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows, including Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, America's Voice,The Jim Bohannon Show, Fox 5, WUSA 9, America's Radio News Network and is also a frequent contributor to the BBC -- and has appeared on France24 TV and German Radio. He is a past president of the Georgetown Kiwanis Club, past member of the St. Matthew's Cathedral's Parish Council, and secretary of the West End Friends of the Library. He is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence and was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002. John Gizzi is also a credentialed correspondent at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He has questioned two IMF managing directors, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine LaGarde, and has become friends with international correspondents worldwide. Johnâ??s email is JGizzi@EaglePub.Com

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