Gov. Charlie Crist likes to tell Florida voters that he could have sought re-election this year and conceivably run unopposed. Instead, the popular Republican chose to seek a U.S. Senate seat, the seat that Republican Mel Martinez resigned from.
Now, Crist is locked in a tough primary race and trails in the polls against Marco Rubio, a favorite of the Tea Party movement and conservative Republicans. Rubio is a former speaker of the Florida House.
A few months ago, NPR's Robert Siegel watched Rubio campaign, and last week Siegel went to Florida to interview Crist and watch him on the stump.
There are a few messages Crist is trying to get across in this primary campaign: One, that he is a true conservative. Two, that his easygoing relations with President Obama are not a case of bad politics, but good manners. And finally, that the campaign has just begun, and Rubio's current lead means nothing.
Differences Between Candidates
Crist said there's a significant difference between himself and his opponent.
"I think what's riding on the difference, as it has come out in the last two weeks, is you want to be able to have people in public office that you believe in -- that don't merely talk the talk, but actually walk the walk," said Crist at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee on Friday.
Crist said he's the "real deal," but his opponent doesn't exhibit the same realism.
"But I think in the true mold of a Ronald Reagan, they [voters] want somebody who's genuine, who's honest, who's straightforward, who's sincere, gives them straight talk and really talks about pragmatic conservatism," Crist said.
Who Is The Real Fiscal Conservative?
One way to test someone's character, Crist said, is to give them power. And when Rubio held the third most powerful political seat in the state, Crist says Rubio didn't prove to be a real fiscal conservative.
"When he was given power, what did he do with it?" Crist asked. "Well, he spent an awful lot of money. He spent money initially by hiring about 20 new people in his office staff, many of them at over $100,000 each. In addition to that, he spent about $400,000 or $500,000 making the dining room in the House look nice."
The Miami Herald reports that Rubio's state House renovations cost $400,000 -- but not all of that was on the new members-only dining room.
Crist As A Senator
When asked what kind of senator he'd be, Crist points to a prominent Republican politician.
"I would do the kinds of things that Ronald Reagan did," Crist said. "I would advocate very strongly for reducing taxes, for reining in spending."
When Siegel pointed out that Reagan reduced taxes and then increased them when the tax reform was passed, Crist said he was "talking about the reducing taxing part."
Crist said he's reduced spending by $7 billion in Florida, and he said he signed the largest tax cut in the history of Florida. The Florida primary will be held in August.