Jim Messina Adds to Charlie Crist Campaign Drama

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: January 22, 2014 3:55 AM
Rick Scott, Jim Messina, Charlie Crist

Rick Scott, Jim Messina, Charlie Crist

Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are building their teams as they get ready for what should be one of the most important races in the nation.

Crist won some headlines this week when he named Jim Messina as a campaign adviser. Messina’s an old Barack Obama staffer, a crack social-media strategist.

“Gov. Crist was obviously very helpful to the 2012 re-elect," Messina told the Herald. "He did whatever we asked and was very helpful giving strategic advice."

Messina joining Crist’s team should help the former Republican governor -- unless too much word gets out that Messina has no intention of handling Crist's day-to-day, that his main job for the national Democratic machine is not to babysit Florida's newbie Dem but to get U.S. senators elected.

Nevertheless, with Messina on board, Crist can go to Democratic donors across the nation and claim to be one of them, despite his many years running as a conservative Republican.

With Allison Tant, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and now Messina behind Crist, the White House and national Democrats hope they're sending messages to Florida Democrats like Nan Rich -- get out! -- and Bill Nelson -- stay out!

But if Messina helps Crist woo wary Democrats, it also gives Republicans some ammo. The RPOF has been hitting Crist hard, looking to link him to Obamacare. With Messina so closely connected to Obama, Republicans can continue that line of attack.

One other thing: Hiring Messina throws Crist into one of the leading controversies in Florida politics. Besides working for Obama, Messina has lobbied for the American Gaming Association (AGA), which supports increased gambling. This has certainly influenced Messina’s recent career path.

For example, even though he's a declared Democrat, Messina went to work for David Cameron and the Conservative Party in England as the Tories look to win in 2015. Cameron and the Conservatives have increasingly been going to the mat for gaming, including fighting against efforts to ban gaming machines in the high streets. Genting and other advocates for increased gambling, which includes bringing resort casinos to Florida, support the AGA. By bringing Messina on board, Crist is clearly tipping his cards on gaming.

Unlike Crist’s tapping of Messina to help his campaign, Scott’s recent campaign hires didn’t dominate the headlines. Scott moved Melissa Sellers, Tim Saler and Matt Moon from the RPOF to the campaign. While none of them have experience on campaigns in Florida, all of them worked at the RPOF or for Scott. Still, even with that background, the action on the Scott campaign will continue to be off-stage as the likes of Tony Fabrizio, Curt Anderson and even Adam Hollingsworth battle to control the campaign.

After Carlos Lopez-Cantera was named as Scott’s running mate, Hollingsworth increasingly appears to be down in his battle with Fabrizio on managing Scott’s 2014 efforts. There are even whispers that Hollingsworth could be headed back to Jacksonville and possibly run against Alvin Brown in next year’s mayoral contest. Regardless of what he does, Hollingsworth’s background as an aide to Scott and John Peyton makes him better suited to run an elected official’s policy team than his campaign operations. Still, Hollingsworth can take some comfort that John Thrasher, his prefered candidate for lieutenant governor, is chairing Scott’s campaign.

Scott and Crist face different challenges in building campaign teams. Crist is starting from scratch since most of his old team stayed with the GOP when he ran for the Senate with no party affiliation in 2010 and then jumped over to the Democrats. While there are some Democrats who are helping Crist, including Dan Gelber and his crowd, for the most part the former governor has to build an entirely new operation.

The governor is also in something of a different position than he is accustomed to. Unlike 2010, Scott now has the machinery of the RPOF in his hands and the GOP mostly behind him. To his credit, he has avoided a major primary challenger despite trailing Crist in the polls. Despite the bigger fish remaining in the background, Scott’s campaign is clearly relying on working well with the RPOF.

With their teams in place, Scott and Crist can now focus on other preliminaries. Crist will soon be trumpeting his new memoir while Scott will try to shine with the budget and upcoming legislative session. But it’s clear both sides are getting ready for November.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson writes exclusively for Sunshine State News.

Comments (3)

milly K
12:55PM JAN 26TH 2014
Let the primaries begin. Vote for Senator Nan Rich to be Florida's next governor - she doesn't have all this baggage and she will represent Florida in a productive manner. Tell President Obama know who he needs to back.
12:30AM JAN 23RD 2014
Nan Rich get out??? NO WAY. As the song says, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!" Crist may have the manager, but Nan has the field.
9:10AM JAN 22ND 2014
You left out one telling fact. There is no one from the previous Scott campaign on this campaign team. Tony Fabrizio sure, but Hollingsworth according to reports, has effectively neutered him. Curt Anderson, seriously? He was minor league in the last campaign and he has not grown his stature since, except in his own mind.

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