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Sun-Sentinel: Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, the talk of Tampa, shake up convention

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

WASHINGTON — They’re both retired (for now, anyway) pols, but former Florida Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist rocked the political world this week, one by thumbing his nose at the Republican Party, the other by generating buzz that he may be angling to become its presidential nominee in four or eight years.

As the Republicans met for their national convention in Tampa, there was loud derision of former Republican Crist — who endorsed Democrat Barack Obama‘s bid for a second term and agreed to speak at the Democrats‘ convention — and speculation about whether Bush was telegraphing his desire to mount a bid for the White House someday.

It gave the convention delegates much to talk about while they waited for a tropical storm to pass by so they could get down to business in earnest Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, they are expected to formally anoint former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as their 2012 presidential nominee.

Crist’s endorsement of Romney’s opponent led to immediate speculation that he plans to run again for governor, this time as a Democrat, against unpopular Republican incumbent Rick Scott.

“The party’s had some fun today with Charlie, reminding everybody about his past comments that he was a Ronald Reagan Republican, pro-life and all things conservative — but probably never was — to get elected,” Sid Dinerstein, Republican chairman in Palm Beach County, said by phone from Tampa.

While governor, Crist became infamous in Republican circles for hugging Obama at a Florida event on home foreclosures. Next week, from the podium of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Crist will blast Romney’s vision, “which caters to the most extreme elements of the Republican Party and undermines the middle class,” a Democratic Party source said.

Since leaving the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, Bush, 59, has pushed for education reform while mostly steering clear of partisan politics and the public spotlight. But he will be playing a major role at the Republican National Convention, capped by a prime-time address set for 8 p.m. Thursday.

His high visibility in Tampa, plus advice he gave over the weekend, prompted Republicans and political observers to speculate that he hopes to become the third member of the Bush family to win the White House. His cautionary remarks warning Republicans to stick to the economy and quit sounding so harsh about immigration set off thoughts of a Bush campaign in four or eight years.

Bush associates say he is not necessarily angling to run for president but is well positioned to mount a campaign in 2016 if Romney loses in November, or in 2020 if Romney gets elected to two terms.

“I believe he will be in position to run if he wants to. But I don’t think he’s even close to it right now,” said Cory Tilley, a former adviser and communications director for Bush. “Certainly looking down the road — four or eight years — he is starting from a position of strength. He will keep that position by doing what he’s doing.”

In a weekend televised appearance, Bush had some words for Democrats: Stop beating up on my brother, former President George W. Bush.

“I mean, look, the guy [Obama] was dealt a difficult hand, no question about it,” Jeb Bush said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “But he’s had three years. His policies have failed.”

His advice to Republicans: Drop the harsh tone on immigration. “You can’t ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you’re really not wanted,” Bush said.

Others, including Dinerstein, think Bush may be paving the way for his sons, George P. Bush and Jeb Bush Jr., to plunge into national politics.

But the talk in Tampa on Monday was more about Crist, 56, who bolted the Republican Party mid-campaign in 2010 to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate and lost. He greeted arriving delegates with an opinion piece on Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times saying that conservatives have pitched the Republican Party “so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.”

Republicans accused Crist of opportunism in preparation for another campaign.

“I hope voters see through it as I do,” said Al Cardenas, former chairman of the Florida Republican Party. “He’s become a political opportunist without a values compass, and that’s a sad place to be for anybody.”

Staff writer Scott Powers contributed to this report.

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