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With three candidates each boasting one primary victory, Florida is partying like it's 2000: another pivotal ballot with presidential implications and the whole nation watching. The winner of next Tuesday's Sunshine State ballot has the clearest path to the Republican nomination. So if you're Newt Gingrich, high off your South Carolina comeback, how do you win with Republicans in a super-state where Mitt Romney's better-organized, better-funded, and (maybe) still ahead? One hail-mary idea is to connect Romney to the state's most famous GOP defector. Rick Tyler, the ex-Gingrich spokesman who now advises Newt's super PAC, Winning Our Future, plans to do just that.
On MSNBC Sunday morning, Tyler "laid out a simple plan for the week ahead: tie Romney to Charlie Crist, the one-time beloved Florida governor who lost both his popularity and chances of serving in the Senate seat when he chose to be the moderate alternative to Tea Partier-turned-senator Marco Rubio," as the Huffington Post summarized it . Tyler went on: "All we have to do is remind people that Mitt Romney is Charlie Crist. 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."
On one level, it's a sound red-meat strategy: Romney's ground team in Florida includes a trio of political insiders who worked for Crist's unsuccessful independent Senate campaign in 2010. But while Gingrich might score some quick primary points by associating Romney with a moderate pol, it's likely to screw him in a general election. That's because in the past two years, Charlie Crist has returned from the dead to become one of the state's most popular politicians.
Back during the 2010 tea party revolution, Rubio crushed Crist in the GOP primary for Florida's open seat. Rubio's strategem was to paint Crist as a moderate Republican-in-name-only. In response, Crist fled the party and ran against Rubio in the general election as an independent, only to be crushed by 20 percent. But as they say in Florida, the rules are different here. Two years on, Rubio's ditched his tea party cred to vote regularly as a moderate; he's even cooperated with Sen. Bill Nelson, his senior colleague and a stolid Democrat, on a host of bills.