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Hmm, Clinton Democrat Mark Penn throws big Senate fundraiser for independent Charlie Crist

August 11, 2010 |  2:08 am

Florida Governor Charlie Crist checks a state beach for signs of oil

OK, here's your politics puzzle for hump day. See if you can follow. We'll write slowly.

Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist was a Republican when he notoriously embraced Democratic President Obama and his $787-billion economic stimulus program that didn't turn out to stimulate so much but the damaging public hug came before anyone knew that.

Then along came a political nobody named Marco Rubio, who used to be a Florida state speaker but decided he wanted to be a U.S. senator for some reason. Rubio's Republican. Turns out, Crist wanted the same federal job. Which set up an Aug. 24 primary struggle to see who wouldn't have to live in the Sunshine state anymore.

Early voting has already begun.

Earlier this year polls showed that, thanks to the rebellious "tea party" crowd, the nobody Rubio was....

...en route to soundly thumping the somebody Crist. This caused Crist to realize that, come to think of it, after all these years he wasn't really a Republican at heart.

But watching Sen. Arlen Specter blow up both ends of his political bridge and fall into involuntary retirement, Crist couldn't quite say he'd become an overnight Democrat either.

Instead, Crist announced that he was a genuine independent candidate. In this era of expediency, being an independent candidate is kind of like those hurried opportunists who hop among checkout lines at the grocery store, thinking one will go quicker than the others. Only to hear those four time-stopping, loudspeakered words: "Price check on 4!"

In one of the other checkout lines, forgotten by most everyone, was Kendrick Meek, a dutiful House member who looked like the best of the worst Democratic possibilities in what is supposed to be a GOP state in a GOP year. He won the support of Bill Clinton, who's still paying back Hillary's helpers from 2 007-08.

Now, presidents aren't supposed to get involved in local primaries. Nobody's actually told him yet, but technically BC isn't president anymore. And, anyway, rules are for ordinary people. Also, Clinton loves campaigning and doesn't mind here and there stimulating the stomach juices of the guy who beat out his wife for the party's presidential nomination.

Democrats Bill Clinton and Kendrick Meek

And if messing around with retirement politics also keeps Clinton's popularity up and the family name in national circulation, who knows what might happen this time next year if, God forbid, the Chicagoan is mired in even deeper voter trouble?

But then, holy Everglades, up steps Jeff Greene, another one of those all-American gazillionaires who think a foray into politics could be a blast. And Meek struggled. Clinton will campaign with him next week.

Now, what's newest in all this is that tonight in Washington Crist, the newly-discovered independent, will be guest of honor at a major fundraiser staged by Mark Penn and his wife, Nancy Jacobson.

They are centrist Democrats with longtime close political ties to -- wait for it -- Bill and Hillary Clinton. Who are supporting Meek, we all understood.

Loyal Ticket readers will remember Penn as Hillary's top campaign strategist during those bruising presidential primary days, until he got caught burning both ends of a contract candle with Colombia and Clinton and had to go under the bus.

But she still paid Penn the millions he charged, after Bill wrote appeals, spoke and raffled off donor days on the town with him somewhere to raise the funds to erase Hillary's campaign debts because as a federal employee and loyal Obama cabinet-mate, she can't be raising her own political money legally. Yet.

You're still with us, right?

So, bottom line, the question stands: Has Penn suddenly developed his own independent streak? Is Bill secretly doing freelance financial favors for Crist, thinking of 2012 or later?

Obama has endorsed Meek but numerous prominent Democrat campaigners have signed on to help Crist. So, is this a covert double-bank shot for the White House hedging its bets against a weak Meek or loser Greene because an alleged independent like Crist is better in the Senate than a guaranteed "tea partier" like Rubio?

In next week's episode, Heather is hospitalized with amnesia upon learning that her fiance, Rob, was in a car accident with a mystery woman from Venezuela on the way to their country club wedding.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images (Crist checks a Florida beach for signs of oil); Associated Press (Clinton and Meek).