Among politicians, there is Gelber in Miami-Dade; former state Sen. Steve Geller in Broward County; former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Palm Beach County, now head of the Washington-based Center for Middle East Peace; former state Sen. Tony Hill of Jacksonville; and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
The operatives he communicates with most frequently are the A-team of Florida Democratic politics: Johnson, Rep. Murphy’s chief of staff; Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign; and Ashley Walker, who ran Obama’s 2012 Florida campaign and developed a relationship with Crist as he campaigned for Obama.
“I talk to him, just as I talk to a lot of statewide Democrats, but I’m not committed to any candidate at this point,” Walker said, echoing the sentiments of most of Crist’s loose-knit crew of advisers, who also speak highly of prospective gubernatorial candidates Alex Sink and Sen. Bill Nelson.
A couple of Democratic pros in Tampa who keep their profiles lower have longstanding friendships with Crist: Mike Hamby, a businessman and former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party who went to Cumberland Law School with Crist; and Bernie Campbell, who works extensively abroad and even as he was working to elect Democrats across Florida a few years ago quietly helped craft speeches for the then-Republican governor.
Greg Truax, a public relations consultant in Tampa, these days serves as Crist’s de facto “body man,” accompanying the would-be candidate to public events. Former aide Michelle Todd of St. Petersburg often fields interview requests from national media outlets.
Unquestionably, Crist’s top adviser lately is John Morgan, his boss at the Morgan & Morgan personal injury law firm, a longtime political power broker who has backed Democrats and Republicans alike and is one of the state’s top fundraisers.
Already, some Democratic allies are fretting that against an incumbent governor planning to spend $100 million in an era where messaging is shaped minute by minute, Crist will suffer if he fails to quickly invest in policy advisers, communications pros and opposition researchers. (Their first order of business, by the way, would be to look at Crist’s own record and comments over his lifetime as a Republican.)
“If you’re going to be successful you have to rely on the professionals,’’ said Hamby, who is confident Crist would do just that. “He would build an effective operation. There’s no question it’s a different game today, just the whole nature of campaigns and how they operate.”
Crist is giving every indication he’s intends to run, speaking to Democratic groups, meeting with influential ministers, labor groups, activists and fundraisers. But nobody, except perhaps Crist and a few family members, knows for sure.
There is little incentive for him to announce soon. Summer is a lousy time to raise money in Florida, and the sooner he formally enters the race, the sooner the Florida GOP opens fire on their former standard-bearer.
For now, Walker said, Crist can continue making friends in the Democratic Party without a bull’s-eye on him.
“He can do that a while longer, but I don’t think he has the luxury to wait until next year or late fall,” she said.
Crist told the Tampa Bay Times he has no timeline for a decision, and if he runs he will follow the same guidelines he always used in politics: Listen.
“I’ve never been wary of listening to the people you have around you, and if we do this I expect that would be the case again,’’ he said. “There are a lot of very smart Democrats.”