Marc Caputo: Charlie Crist — promoter-in-chief

02/23/2014 4:23 PM

02/23/2014 6:49 PM

The Charlie Crist charm offensive vexes Gov. Rick Scott.

Month after month, poll after poll has shown Florida voters generally favor Crist and don’t really like Scott. The governor currently trails the Democrat by about 5 or so percentage points.

To change that, Scott wants to spend upward of $100 million, much of it on an ad campaign to persuade voters that they’re wrong on two counts: about him and about his rival.

That’s a tough sell.

Right now, to the degree Crist and Scott resemble ad products, the former governor is a more-trusted political brand than the current one. Though financially outgunned, Crist does a better job promoting himself, seeking out the news. Scott runs the other way.

Just look at Crist’s schedule the past three weeks as he promoted his new book, The Party’s Over: Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, CNN’s Piers Morgan Live, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, FOX’s O’Reilly Factor and HBOs Real Time with Bill Maher.

On Tuesday, it was real time with Esteban Wood.

Who?

He’s a 15-year-old student at Gulliver Preparatory School who came to a Books & Books signing event Tuesday on South Beach.

“Wanna take a selfie?” Crist asked after meeting him at a nearby restaurant.

Esteban clicked away. He later got his book signed.

Crist didn’t have to spend time with a teen who can’t vote. But his mom and dad do. And that’s Crist. He’s always selling his political brand on cable news, in bookstores, in newspapers, at rallies or even in elevators.

In 1998, while covering Crist at a fundraiser at the Registry Hotel in Naples, I remember how the then-U.S. Senate candidate tried to get the vote of a housekeeper as they rode in an elevator. He introduced himself. She didn’t speak any English. He didn’t care. He shook her hand, thanked her and moved on.

Crist, then a Republican, lost that race.

This year, Crist is no lock to win. His big lead will evaporate as more Republicans come home to Scott along with conservative independents.

If past elections are any guide, the winner will prevail by 2 percentage points, at most. Don’t be surprised by a recount-requiring squeaker.

Scott’s money — he’s independently wealthy and furiously raising tens of millions of dollars — will go a long way to shaping this race. Crist hopes to have $50 million to spend, half of what Scott will have. Crist’s knack for getting free media coverage helps even out the odds a little more.

Crist still has to get past little-known Democrat Nan Rich in the Aug. 26 primary before he starts spending serious money.

Meantime, some Republicans are worried Scott hasn’t spent enough so far on ads to re-define himself and Crist. Expect that to start within the coming weeks as the Scott ad campaign ramps up more.

About the same time, Scott will have more of the spotlight because the regular 60-day lawmaking session starts March 4.

Crist undoubtedly will find a way to make news. Sometimes, his opponents help him to do it.

The state GOP is following Crist to each book signing across the state and picketing him. In doing so, though, Republicans are raising awareness about Crist. Some people stopped in for book signings after seeing the protestors. And conflict is almost a guarantee for news media coverage.

And that means coverage for Crist.

Crist seemed to love it when he saw the state’s Republican Party chairman, Lenny Curry, in Orlando.

“Lenny!” he said, running over and slapping him on the shoulder.

Before a Tallahassee book signing, Crist said on Twitter: “Hey my friend @lennycurry, I understand you are doing book tour with me. Let me know if you need a ride. See you soon. Charlie.”

That’s a type of media savvy and stuntsmanship that money can’t buy.

About Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo

@MarcACaputo

Marc Caputo is the Miami Herald's political writer. Hailing from Key West, he graduated from the University of Miami.

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