Florida Gov. Crist begins decade fighting poll numbers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Charlie Crist's final year as governor begins like no other: with perilous poll numbers, his optimism worn thin and his shell of political Teflon deeply scratched.

After two years of governing Florida by shrewdly gauging the prevailing political winds, Crist strayed off course as the economy spiraled downward in 2009, his nice-guy image no longer effective as a balm for frustrated Floridians.

He miscalculated the danger of his ``man hug'' with President Barack Obama in support of the Democrats' stimulus package. He signed a no-new-taxes pledge only to raise taxes weeks later to balance the state budget. And the biggest contributor in his campaign for U.S. Senate, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, was charged in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

By year's end, his Republican Senate rival, Marco Rubio, had gained ground as a conservative alternative.

``It's been a rough patch, and certainly some of it's self-inflicted. No question. I mean, that happens. Nobody's perfect,'' Crist said in an interview with the Herald/Times. ``But you learn from that, I think.''

Crist acknowledged ``it's certainly possible'' that his intense focus on raising millions of dollars as a Senate candidate diverted attention from his duties as chief executive of the nation's fourth-most populous state.

``I'm not always on my game. None of us are,'' Crist said. ``But I feel very good about where I am now, and self-assured and confident about where we need to go and what Florida needs to do. I'm very confident in our administration. Things are going well at the office.''

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