Charlie Crist's supporters across Florida are in varying states of panic, and for good reason: Two polls released this week show the once-inevitable Republican U.S. Senate nominee trailing challenger Marco Rubio by 12 points and 14 points among GOP voters. A third poll, released last week, showed Rubio ahead by 3 points.
Inside the political echo chambers of Tallahassee and Washington, conventional wisdom is setting in that Crist is past the point of no return and doomed to experience one of the most stunning political downfalls Florida has ever seen. Meanwhile, everyone -- from his closest supporters to fiercest enemies -- has an opinion on what the governor needs to do:
Start carpet-bombing the TV airwaves with negative ads about Rubio. Give up, and run for reelection as governor. Make a hard turn to the right and relentlessly attack everything President Barack Obama does. Run as an independent. Run as a moderate. Apologize profusely for endorsing the stimulus package. And on and on.
Crist's plan? Play the leadership card.
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Crist has long traded on his political instincts, but his public office could be his most valuable commodity. As governor of the nation's fourth-largest state, he has a ready platform for engaging in serious issues, drawing media attention -- and possibly making Rubio look small for taking political shots at a governor grappling with Florida's problems.
``I'm not really concerned about poll numbers. I'm concerned about the people,'' Crist said Monday in Miami, batting away questions about the former Florida House speaker's surging poll numbers at a news conference about bringing critically injured Haitians to the state.
The governor's remarks in Miami echoed the swipe he took at Rubio last week in Tallahassee: ``I don't have the luxury of going around the state and politicking all day,'' he said. ``I'm going to do my job.''
His official calendar lately tells the story. A governor who used to routinely list one or two events a day, on Monday he had five scheduled events or meetings. On Tuesday, seven.
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