Crist's Surprise New Senator

Imagine, a decade ago, then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas naming political maestro Karl Rove to the vacancy.

That’s about the way Florida Republicans I talked to characterized Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s surprise appointment of longtime political alter ego George LeMieux to the Sunshine State’s vacant Senate seat.  When incumbent Republican Mel Martinez announced his surprise resignation on August 9, betting was on Crist turning to more luminous GOPers such as former state Attorney General Jim Smith or former Gov. Bob Martinez (no relation to Mel).

But on Friday (August 28), Crist instead turned instead to insider LeMieux, who had helped quarterback his winning races for attorney general and governor and then served as chief of staff to Crist when he held both offices.  

LeMieux is politically savvy, state GOPers agree. Along with his longtime (and politically successful) association with Crist, the new senator also served as GOP chairman of Broward County (Fort Lauderdale). Given the ties to Crist, LeMieux is expected to fill vote along the same lines as the centrist governor as he fills out the remainder of Martinez’s term until January of 2011.  

“George will organize the office along the same lines he organized Gov. Crist’s office in Tallahassee and will vote pretty much the way the governor would,” Gary Lee, Republican chairman of Lee County, told me this morning.  Crist, of course, is running for the seat vacated by Martinez and faces a primary challenge from Marco Rubio, former state House speaker and a stalwart conservative.  Rubio has focused his fire on Crist’s non-conservative positions on issues such as global warming (Crist wants federal climate control measures) and the Obama stimulus package (Crist was the first Republican governor to support it).  Just two weeks ago, a poll of members of the GOP county committee in Lee County showed Rubio beating Crist with 85% of the vote among the party activists.

So what is sure to be an exciting primary goes on.  But for now, a Senate seat is filled by a Crist ally.


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