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Thursday October 23rd 2014

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Backroom Briefing: Looking for Charlie and taking out the cat boxes

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Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida

By DARA KAM AND BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Politicos often refer to campaign time as the “silly season,” hallmarked by numerous (sometimes frivolous) complaints of both the official and the “let’s-throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” varieties.

The latest statewide silliness involves questions raised by Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign about Democratic opponent Charlie Crist’s domicile.

Crist and his wife, Carole, took some heat earlier this year for renting pricy digs on ritzy Fisher Island, accessible only by boat, near South Beach. Carole Crist formerly owned a condo on the exclusive island but sold it in 2011 — long after marrying the onetime Republican governor — for $3 million.

The Crists don’t have the Fisher Island pad anymore. But earlier this week, Scott campaign spokesman Matt Moon sent an e-mail to reporters asking “Where in the World is Charlie Crist?” after the campaign discovered someone had applied for a homestead exemption on Crist’s old place in St. Pete.

Moon demanded to know where Crist’s official residence is and why he hadn’t changed his address on his voter registration or driver’s license.

Crist told the Sun-Sentinel editorial board on Tuesday that the owner of the St. Petersburg condo wanted to move back, so Crist moved out of the 19th-floor Beach Drive apartment. But he didn’t go far. Crist said he moved into a different unit in the same building. He also is renting a place in Fort Lauderdale.

“I rent a condo in St. Petersburg. I have been there since ’83. We rented a condo here in Fort Lauderdale because Broward is important and we spend a lot of time here….,” said Crist, who has never owned real estate.

Crist’s campaign jumped all over the attacks, saying Scott’s team “just insulted about one third of Florida households” who are renters.

PRIMARY PUNCHES

Voters’ mailboxes are overflowing with campaign flyers since absentee ballots started going out more than a week ago.

One that caught Backroom Briefing’s eye is an attack ad sent out by the Scott-backing “Let’s Get to Work” committee to Republicans in advance of the Aug. 26 primary election.

Scott is facing two little-known GOP contenders in the primary. And Crist is in a primary race with former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich.

What’s curious about it, though, is that Crist is running in a Democratic primary, and the ad doesn’t make any mention of Scott.

“Look who’s back for more,” the ad reads. “Return your absentee ballot today and protect your wallet from Charlie Crist.”

MORE IMPORTANT THAN ‘TAKING OUT THE CAT BOXES’

One side effect of the special session that began Thursday is that, as long as the Legislature is meeting, members are barred from raising any campaign cash. And every minute spent in Tallahassee is a minute that can’t be spent on the campaign trail. But leaders of both parties say, at least publicly, they’re not hearing any complaints about losing as many as nine days of politicking to redraw congressional maps.

Senate President Don Gaetz even suggested that some matrimonial duties shouldn’t take precedence over the legislative business.

“I think senators of both parties are fulfilling their constitutional responsibility — and that’s more important than running for election, it’s more important than me taking out the cat boxes for Vicky (Gaetz), it’s more important than fundraising or anything else that we might do,” said Gaetz, R-Niceville.

That’s easy for Gaetz to say, of course; his seat isn’t up for election this year, and he’s in his final term in any case. But House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he hasn’t heard any carping from his members, despite the fact that some of them are being targeted in what could a rough year for Democrats.

“It’s not a help, but I don’t think it hurts,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, one of the targeted freshmen. “It doesn’t hurt me to be back up here.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Is this one of those gag twitter accounts? Are you really saying Crist is the candidate avoiding questions?” former Sen. Paula Dockery, responding to a Republican tweet about people being able to ask Crist on Facebook “the questions he loves to avoid.”

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