Tags: US | Florida | Senate | Crist

After Split From GOP, Crist Busy With Fla. Duties

Saturday, 01 May 2010 06:46 PM

Fresh from leaving the Republican Party, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Saturday busied himself with official duties in the public eye as he and his former GOP primary rival adjusted to his new role as an independent in the U.S. Senate race.

Crist, whose next campaign event is a fundraiser Sunday in Miami Beach, started the day in South Florida, meeting with Amtrak officials who want to restore rail service from Miami to Jacksonville on the East Coast Railway. He toured an inspection train that is testing the rail line and said he would do whatever he could to make the idea a reality.

"If we can go to the moon, we can certainly go to Jacksonville," Crist said.

Several people at the event encouraged Crist's independent run for Senate, which he announced on Thursday in his hometown of St. Petersburg. One man told Crist: "I'm 100 percent behind you and I'm a staunch Democrat. How's that sound?"

"That sounds great," Crist replied.

Crist, once the heavy favorite in the race, left the Republican primary after badly trailing conservative darling Marco Rubio, Florida's former state House speaker. Rubio had no scheduled events this weekend, but was slated to appear on "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "State of the Union."

The Democratic front-runner is U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, but billionaire real estate magnate Jeff Greene has also entered that primary.

Crist on Saturday flew to Pensacola, where he was to be briefed on the massive Gulf Coast oil spill. He took a commercial flight and introduced himself as "Charlie" to the other travelers on an airport shuttle bus.

Before the plane took off from Miami, Crist returned phone messages to supporters, telling one, "Hey, It's Charlie. Thanks so much for the text. I appreciate it."

"I'm doing a great, I'm doing great. You're coming tomorrow, of course." Crist told another supporter, referring to Sunday's fundraiser at a Miami Beach hotel. "I want you to come. God bless you. Thank you so much."

The fundraiser, which legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula was expected to attend, is Crist's first as an independent candidate.

In Pensacola, officials from the U.S Coast Guard, oil company BP PLC and Crist's environmental secretary were to brief the governor on the oil spill and its threat to Florida's coastlines.

Crist faces a tough road as an independent candidate: He has burned bridges with Republicans, and Democrats see his departure from the GOP as an opportunity.

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