- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Outgoing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will linger in some short-term memories for his failed independent Senate run and his pardon of dead rock star Jim Morrison. People thinking longer term will recall a governor who persuaded Republicans and Democrats to work together but blundered away his potential for success at the national level.

Mr. Crist, who leaves office Tuesday, enjoyed widespread popularity for much of his term. He built a reputation as a national leader on climate-change issues and had support from Democratic, Republican and independent voters. Politically and on policy issues, he was a winner in his first two years in office.

But then a combination of a bad economy and uncharacteristic political miscalculations set his political career in reverse. The guy who was mentioned as a potential 2008 running mate for Republican John McCain and a possible future presidential candidate is now looking for a job outside of politics.

“People found out about his political philosophy. … His compass didn’t point north, it didn’t point south, it didn’t point east and it didn’t point west. It pointed any way the wind was blowing for him,” said state Sen. John Thrasher, who chairs the state Republican Party. “You can be a populist for so long before it catches up to you and that’s exactly what happened to him.”

Mr. Crist easily won office in 2006 and immediately sought to win over Democrats and Republicans. While times were good, the parties came together. They passed legislation aimed at lowering the cost of property insurance and property taxes, ensuring voting machines had paper trails and Mr. Crist’s first priority: Putting violent offenders who violate probation back in prison.

“There was a great sense of cooperation, Republicans and Democrats really working together very, very well,” Mr. Crist said. “Unfortunately, this past year that wasn’t the case.”

Mr. Crist held summits on climate change and appeared with singer Sheryl Crow to bring awareness to clean energy. He remained in the national limelight when Florida moved up its 2008 presidential primary date and major GOP candidates began knocking on Mr. Crist’s door looking for help.

Mr. Crist endorsed Mr. McCain and helped push the Arizona senator to victory in Florida, a win that helped him cruise to the nomination. Mr. Crist began campaigning with Mr. McCain and appearing on national television to promote him, leading to speculation that Mr. Crist would be Mr. McCain’s running mate.

But Mr. McCain went with another fresh-faced governor, Alaska’s Sarah Palin, and soon after Mr. McCain’s loss, Mr. Crist’s luck began to change. He upset many Republicans when he joined newly elected President Obama on stage to rally support for a $787 billion stimulus package that most in the GOP opposed.

Mr. Crist’s embrace of Mr. Obama, an enduring image from that southwest Florida event, was used against him repeatedly when he decided to run for Florida’s open Senate seat this year. He miscalculated by assuming it would be an easy walk to the Republican nomination. Crist supporters failed to force former House Speaker Marco Rubio out of the race.

As the economy grew worse, Mr. Rubio repeatedly criticized Mr. Obama’s spending policies and linked Mr. Crist to them.

“You had a governor that has had a very difficult economic time to deal with and has shown nothing to really counter the bad economy except platitudes — ‘I love Florida, isn’t she great?’” said David Johnson, a Tallahassee-based Republican strategist. “The clock ran out on his good time because he was governor during a very bad time.”

And what made Mr. Crist successful earlier, his personality and his ability to engage voters, no longer worked.

“We need more than a nice guy. No one can take that away from him, he is a very nice guy, but being governor during tough times requires more and he doesn’t have it,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Crist was also hurt among Republicans when he continued defending his handpicked GOP chairman, Jim Greer, despite a growing cry for his ouster because of outrageous spending. After Mr. Greer was removed from office, he was accused of funneling party money to himself through a corporation he set up and was charged with grand theft.

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