Politics & Government

Gingrich rallies Miami's GOP but focus is on Crist

Forget taxes, oil drilling and gambling. Perhaps the biggest divide between Republicans and Democrats in Florida these days is over Gov. Charlie Crist's possible U.S. Senate bid.

Many Republicans are growing anxious that their popular standard bearer will leave his office up for grabs and set off a number of potentially testy GOP primaries. Democrats are giddy at the prospect of gaining a toehold in GOP-dominated Tallahassee.

Crist's potential campaign for higher office dominated the conversation at the Broward County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner on Thursday. The governor has said he will make an announcement after the legislative session, which ends Friday.

"If I had to name our priority, I'd put it on the governor's mansion," said Chip LaMarca, the local party chairman. "People are anxious more than anything else, anxious that if Gov. Crist runs for the Senate that we get our campaign for governor going as soon as possible."

The unease among Republicans comes as the party struggles to rebuild after back-to-back election losses. Congressman Newt Gingrich, who led the GOP takeover of the House in 1994, offered the Broward Republican Party his advice in the form of an economic manifesto titled "12 American Solutions for Jobs and Prosperity."

"Make sure we are the party of better solutions, not the party of opposition," Gingrich said in his speech to about 300 people at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.

In Florida, the GOP has held the governor's mansion since 1998 and both chambers of the Legislature since 1996. The expanded powers assembled by ex-Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida's size and diversity make the governor's seat one of the nation's most visible posts as well as a lucrative perch for party fundraising.

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