Part scoundrel, part genius, part self-promoting huckster, SaintPetersBlog's Peter Schorsch lives Florida politics about as large as any one man can.
When he and his wife Michelle were married last year, Charlie Crist and his wife Carole were in attendance. In fact, the guest list was studded with Bay-area political stars, lobbyists and media personalities, from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, from Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times toBay News 9 Tallahassee reporterTroy Kinsey.
Those who know him rarely feel ambivalent about him -- they either admire and like him, or despise and distrust him. And he cares not a hoot which one it is.
"I do enjoy having a list of enemies," he says.
"I like smart people. I like smart candidates. I probably disagree with Matt Gaetz as much as anybody, but he's a smart guy," says Schorsch, "so I want to be a part of his radar and part of any conversation he's having."
Founder of what has arguably become Florida's best-known blog site, in less than seven years Schorsch, 37, has taken SaintPetersBlog from a handful of views a day to an average of 25,000 -- and during the months leading up to the election, a daily total of between 50,000 and 60,000.
In a telephone interview last week, Schorsch told Sunshine State News what motivated him to launch SaintPetersBlog and what separates the site from so many others.
"I thought the local media were missing a lot of stories, a lot of background, a lot of color. Being on the inside, working on most of the Tampa Bay legislative races from 1998 to 2006, looking at the coverage, the Times and (Tampa) Tribune were missing a lot of the stories about why people were being elected to their city councils or the way TV ads were being created. They had nothing on fundraisers and lobbyists. I started writing about this stuff because i knew about it and wanted to share it.
"In that way, I'm like every other blogger," he said. "The difference between me and them is, I commercialized it and financialized it and then over the last three or four years expanded it to a more statewide presence."
By financializing, Schorsch means he makes his money consulting with the politicians he writes about. During the 2012 election campaign, he had between six and 24 candidates at any one time -- sometimes providing help on media strategy, lobbying for public affairs, providing graphics, even offering guidance to a local public relations firm.
"I'm constantly crunching stories about Florida politics. I think people want to get plugged into the network, buy into the radar," Schorsch said of the lure his business is to political clients. "I'm blessed with a pretty heavy inbox now. I think there's great value to the corporate side."
Schorsch wasn't specific about the number of employees working on the site, but he said he has help on the backend to manage the site's content.
He said he's up and writing by 4 a.m. "You have to give readers something fresh first thing in the morning. That's what they're looking for. You've got to make them say, 'hey, check this out' and 'did you see this?' I'm the only content provider, but there's a lot of aggregation from other sites, although I do try to put my own spin on it."
"SaintPetersBlog is usually a step ahead of the technology curve, it's better designed than most newspaper websites. We just redesigned it again in January. Yes, I write a lot, but I'm blessed with the ability to have advertisers and resources devoted to me writing a lot. I have a base of support who believe in me."
Schorsch said he's never averse to taking a poke at people his enemies say he coddles -- people like Crist. "My wife was a special assistant to Charlie, worked hard on his Senate campaign, and she still hasn't forgiven me for writing something that lost Charlie a major contribution and (New York Mayor) Michael Bloomberg's endorsement."
Rep. Mike Fasano said he counts himself as one of Schorsch's fans. "He doesn't pretend he's a journalist, which I like, but what he writes seems to be on the money most of the time."
Bay area consultant Chris Ingram, who has had many set-to's with Schorsch in and out of print over the years, is Fasano's polar opposite.
He says of Schorsch, "His ego shows up half an hour before he does. I think you could write anything about him and he'd be happy."
"Peter portrays me as the political consultant with no clients," Ingram said. "The truth is, I couldn't care less what he says about me, and I couldn't care less what anybody who reads the crap he writes says about me."
Schorsch well and truly earned his enemies.
On the way to where he is today, he had what he calls "a rocky start." In fact, it was a good bit more than that.
He came away from Florida State University and the University of South Florida as one of the brightest sparks on the Tampa political scene, working as a political analyst and senior writer for the James Madison Institute, for the well-respected GOP consulting firm The Mallard Group and for Charlie Crist's 2004 election campaign. He even launched his own firm, reaching out mostly to candidates for local office in the Tampa Bay area.
But his personal life was such a mess, it finally overtook his career.
Before he was 30 he was chased by creditors and the IRS, charged with 16 counts of writing bad checks, busted multiple times for driving with a suspended license, evicted from his apartment and had his car repossessed. Probably worst of all, a candidate Schorsch represented in a city council election filed criminal charges against him, contending he took thousands of dollars and failed to deliver services promised.
In a story about his early rise and fall in the Dec. 5, 2005, St. Petersburg Times, "A Wilting of Great Promise," Schorsch -- his swagger unimpeded -- is quoted as saying, "I am not an elected official, I've never asked for theI public trust, so if I drink too much, eat too much, snort too much, fight too much ... or do too much of whatever else, then I do that at my own peril."
University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus told SSN, "Peter was one of the brightest students I've ever had, and it was disappointing to watch his deterioration."
"I admit it," Schorsch told me, "I'd made a lot go wrong in my life. I don't think anybody ever expected me to get dealt back into the game."
But back in he is.
"I look at my wife Michelle and my 4-month-old baby Ella and my life now," he said, "and I think I'ma good example of why you give people a second chance."
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.