Newt Gingrich fired up conservatives in St. Petersburg, Fla., this morning when he told them former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has hired former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager, the New York Times said this morning on Twitter.
The story — first broken on Newsmax Monday — has gone viral on the web.
Mitt Romney’s chief strategist Stuart Stevens also served as Charlie Crist’s chief strategist during Crist’s failed Senate Republican primary bid against Marco Rubio.
Stevens had a long history of advising Crist, including running his campaigns for attorney general, governor and later U.S. Senate.
Today, Stevens and several other top Crist aides are managing Romney’s national campaign for the Republican nomination for president. Stevens’ firm, Stevens & Schriefer, advises Republican candidates nationally and focuses on electing moderates in Blue State races.
“I think here in Florida, all we have to do is remind people that Mitt Romney is Charlie Crist,” Rick Tyler, who runs the pro-Gingrich Restoring Our Future PAC, said on MSNBC Monday night. “If you voted for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Mitt. If you didn’t vote for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Newt.”
Gingrich himself has noted that his Florida campaign effort is being managed by Marco Rubio’s Senate campaign manager, Jose Mallea.
Crist left the Republican Party in 2010 after polls showed him losing to tea party-supported conservative Marco Rubio. He ran as an independent, and lost to Rubio by 19 percentage points.
Stevens and other Romney aides quit the Crist campaign after the then-Florida governor decided to run as an independent against Rubio.
The reverberations of the Crist-Rubio debacle, and the influence of Crist strategists at the top levels of Romney’s campaign have emerged as major themes in the Florida primary since the Newsmax story broke.
In an exclusive Newsmax interview late Monday, former Florida Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum predicted Romney’s close ties with former Crist operatives will hurt his image with Florida voters who “will not be favorably inclined to that, because most Republican primary voters in Florida know that Charlie Crist flopped on them. He went over to the Democrats’ side … it just wasn’t the same Charlie Crist they thought they’d elected.”
In the spin room after the NBC/National Journal debate Monday night, Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said the Gingrich-Romney race is shaping up as “a very similar parallel” to Rubio v. Crist.
“On one side you had a true conservative, on the other you had someone masquerading as somebody they were not, and so the people of Florida are very familiar with this story,” Hammond said. “They’ve already seen it one time, so for a lot of voters this is a repeat movie. They’ll just wait till the end and vote for Newt.”
The tactics Crist used against Rubio, which some analysts say mirror those adopted by Romney, were two-fold: Spurn tea-party style conservatives, and go sharply negative. But when it became apparent in April 2010 that Crist could not defeat Rubio in the Republican primary, he bolted the GOP to run as an independent. Crist’s top GOP strategists immediately resigned, including those who are now advising Romney.
On Monday, McCollum told Newsmax: “I think that’s another sign that Mitt Romney is a moderate Republican, and I that think these probably are good people, good operatives. But Charlie Crist flip-flopped a lot. I liked Charlie personally, but I didn’t agree with his politics. It’s just emblematic of what we’ve seen in other ways in the Romney campaign.”
McCollum said Romney would not intentionally follow Crist’s strategy, considering how badly he lost to Rubio.
“But I believe that there’s no question that [Romney] is more moderate than Newt Gingrich is,” said McCollum, who is serving as chairman of Gingrich’s Florida effort. “I think that it’s been very apparent in South Carolina, it’s very apparent to tea party folks and conservatives paying attention in Florida, that Newt Gingrich is truly the most conservative candidate out there, and most reliably conservatives. Romney’s changed his positions many times.”
McCollum, a loyal Republican stalwart who lost a gubernatorial primary election against current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, added: “Mitt Romney has tried to be conservative on a couple of issues, tried to say, ‘Hey, this is me, I’m tougher.’ But overall he is not the same as a committed conservative like Newt Gingrich is, someone who’s been around a long time and understand not only the economy but national defense and all those other things as well.
“So I just think probably his campaign staff is not serving him that well in this regard — but who’s to say?”
via Gingrich Slams Romney For Hiring Charlie Crist’s Top Aides.