Friday, January 29, 2010

Keeping His Distance

Gov. Charlie Crist faced a delicate situation yesterday.

TAMPA — Put yourself in Charlie’s shoes.

You’re standing there on the big MacDill Air Force Base tarmac, first in line next to Vice President Joe Biden as the door to Air Force One slowly opens. The sun’s beating down. The plane’s engines are roaring. The crowd is all eyes.

Do they remember the man-hug?

There he is, the president — smiling ear-to-ear and waving as dozens of cameras go click, click, click. He walks down the stairs. Here comes the hand.

This is where things get tricky for Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. The last time President Barack Obama reached out for him, at a Fort Myers event almost a year ago, the two ended up in an embarrassingly public display of affection.

Photos of the encounter splashed across the blogosphere, garnering criticism from fellow Republicans who frowned on Crist’s support of Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. For Crist, in a tight U.S. Senate primary race with former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, the criticism has never waned.

So now, with Obama in Tampa announcing funds for the high-speed rail project Crist worked so hard to secure, how does Crist react?

What if Obama goes in for the kill? Should Crist pull away? Does he dare hug back?

The answer comes a few seconds later, when Obama steps off Air Force One with his hand outstretched. Click, click, click go the cameras.

Crist manages to get away with a firm handshake. But it’s a close call.

Obama’s other hand lingers on Crist’s elbow as Crist leans in with furrowed brows. In 27 seconds, it’s all over.

Whew. So I guess the thing Gov. Crist was really worried about was whether or not his political opponents would keep up the whispering campaign that he was really an in-the-closet moderate. Horrors.