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Charlie Crist gets panned in Orange County

June 18, 2008 |  2:59 pm

California's Orange County is proving a tough venue for out-of-town Republican politicians trying to elevate their national profile.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee laid an egg there last year. And late last week, so did Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (at right), at least in one local columnist's view.Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida has been prominently mentioned as a running mate for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain but he got a bad review for a recent speech in Orange County

Thirteen months ago, when the buzz was at its loudest that Thompson was perfectly primed to swoop into what many saw as a lackluster GOP presidential field and emerge as the nominee, he traveled to Newport Beach for a much-heralded speech to the Lincoln Club of Orange County.

Also in the audience was Robert Novak, and the nationally syndicated columnist was less than impressed. In a column that gained a fair amount of attention at the time , Novak wrote that Thompson's appearance proved "a letdown for the packed audience of conservative Republicans."

Reactions he quoted included: "It was not Reaganesque;" "No red meat;" "Too low key."

Novak himself noted that "surprisingly for such an experienced performer ...Thompson had trouble with the podium microphone as his low, conversational tones faded in and out."

In retrospect, of course, these problems and more marked Thompson's eventual candidacy, which never came close to catching fire.

Crist, a hot prospect in the vice presidential guessing game for John McCain's ticket, could be found Friday in Irvine, headlining a Republican Party dinner. The upshot -- a column a few days later by the Orange County Register's Frank Mickadeit headlined, "We know who McCain shouldn't pick."

Mickadeit gave the governor a rave for his appearance: "silver hair, warm smile, great tan, perfectly tailored suit of clothes, decent teeth."

But, the columnist added: "It's when he uses his facial musculature to try and form cogent sound that he falls apart."

One of Crist's miscues occurred when, in making the required mention ...

... of Ronald Reagan, he said the former president "came from right here in Orange County."

As Mickadeit noted, that would apply to Richard Nixon, but not the Midwest born-and-raised Reagan.

The rest of the vivisection of Crist can be read here.

Crist isn't getting much love from his home-state press these days, either.

Perhaps a bit too obviously, Crist on Tuesday embraced McCain's call for ending the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling -- a ban that, like virtually all mainstream politicians in Florida, he had staunchly supported.

Among those taking him to task today was the Palm Beach Post. In an editorial, the newspaper noted that Crist, in praising McCain's proposal, had "said leaving the final decision (on drilling) up to states is 'brilliant.' "

Asked the editorial, "How is giving Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama power to make drilling decisions that could affect Florida 'brilliant?' "

If Crist ends up out of luck in the veep sweepstakes, that question likely will loom over his expected reelection bid in 2010.

-- Don Frederick

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