Is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist milking the BP oil spill for publicity – and campaign donations?
Crist's rival for the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in November, Marco Rubio, apparently thinks he is.
On Friday, Rubio slammed Crist for trying to "continue the story line" about the BP oil spill in order to "get more publicity from it."
Rubio also noted the New York Post report Wednesday that Crist and his wife, Carole, a New York socialite, had held a fundraiser in the Hamptons "with deep-pocketed environmentalists unhappy with BP's response to the oil spill."
There's no doubt that for Crist, the oil-spill crisis has provided photo opportunities galore. He's been seen touring beaches, meeting with local officials and conducting scores of TV interviews.
Crist recently praised the Obama administration for its response to the oil spill, saying he was "very pleased" it had pushed BP into setting up a $20 billion escrow for damage claims.
The governor may have overplayed his hand, however, when he called for a special session of the Florida Legislature to consider a state constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling in Florida waters. A Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial complained it was "an issue Crist has used for his own political purposes."
The newspaper added: "The abortive oil session was a costly and unnecessary political exercise that served only to highlight the growing animosity between Republican lawmakers and Crist, the erstwhile Republican who turned independent in the middle of his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
"Crist called the session without first preparing the ground by negotiating with Republican leaders. In the absence of an agreement with top lawmakers on the need for a session, he must have known – or he should have known – that most Republicans would suspect he was using them as foils for his election-year crusade against Big Oil."
Florida GOP legislators pointed out that the Sunshine State already has a drilling ban, albeit not a constitutional one. With coastal towns in Florida losing tens of millions of tourism dollars due to Gulf oil fears, a Florida politician challenging the state's drilling ban wouldn't even last as long as the special session did – 49 minutes. That's how long it took legislators, who voted along straight party lines, to cancel the confab and go back home. Taxpayers footed the bill, of course.
The aborted special session, however, gave Crist, who left the GOP to avoid an almost-certain primary defeat at the hands of Rubio, an opportunity to blast the Republican-dominated "do-nothing" Legislature.
During a telephone conference on Friday to discuss the recent endorsement Rubio won from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Newsmax asked Rubio if he believes Crist is trying to manipulate the oil spill to his own political advantage.
Rubio's response: "I know it's been reported by a publication in New York that he was indeed in the Hamptons meeting with environmentalists trying to raise money. It's a fact that he did send around an e-mail trying to raise money that cited the oil spill. And I don't think there's any doubt that the special session in Tallahassee that he called was a stunt. After all, oil drilling in Florida's waters is already prohibited.
"The only reason you call a special session is because there's some action you have to take, because if you don't, something is going to happen," Rubio added. "Nothing's going to happen on oil drilling in Florida's waters, because the Legislature is not even back in session until November, and nobody up there is asking for there to be a lifting of that ban at this point.
"So there was no need for the special session other than the desire to continue the story line and get more publicity from it. I don't think there could be any doubt about that," he concluded.
Pollsters say the Rubio-Crist race for Senate remains extremely close. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey of likely voters shows Rubio with a narrow lead at 35 percent to 33 percent, with likely Democratic opponent Kendrick Meek at 20 percent.
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