As Mitt Romney puts the South Carolina primary in his rear-view mirror and hits the accelerator in a bid to win Florida, he may discover himself crashing headlong into the bitter legacy of Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor who defected from the GOP and was soundly defeated for the U.S. Senate by Marco Rubio.
Romney’s “Charlie Crist” problem is this: Romney’s chief campaign strategist and several of his most senior campaign staff were Crist’s top political advisers — the same ones who crafted Crist’s moderate, ignore-the-tea-party strategy epitomized in Crist’s famous “hug” of President Barack Obama. That strategy led Crist, once the most popular Republican governor in the nation, to defeat.
Crist’s erstwhile political team was led by controversial GOP strategist Stuart Stevens. Stevens and partner Russ Schriefer are the principals in the high-profile Stevens & Schriefer Group consultant firm and are playing the lead role in crafting Romney’s primary and national campaign strategy.
According to the Stevens & Schriefer website, the firm had a long history with Crist, serving as chief strategists for his bids for education commissioner, attorney general, governor, and later for the U.S. Senate.
Other senior Crist political aides from his failed Senate campaign now hold key posts in Romney’s campaign. Amanda Henneberg, who had served as Crist’s press secretary, now is a spokeswoman with the Romney 2012 campaign. Likewise, Andrea Saul, who was Crist’s communications director, now is Romney’s press secretary.
The Stevens & Schriefer firm has played a central role in several GOP presidential campaigns, including Romney’s failed bid in 2008. It also holds a strong track record of winning campaigns, mainly for more moderate Republicans.