By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Frank Owen
"I was not a person who felt that Tom should be quiet," Miceli-Vasquez says. "Had I been his campaign manager, I would've fought for him harder. His negative so-called advertising was only on issues."
Off the record, some Gallagher supporters say they wish Gallagher had just come out and said that Crist is gay.
"He's just wouldn't go there," one source close to the campaign says. "It's just the way he was raised."
Just saying it couldn't have hurt Gallagher much more than alluding to it did. The more Gallagher attacked Crist on gay issues, the more he cemented the notion that Crist had moderate appeal.
"You know what we all said on all that?" one Republican party insider says. "'Man, Crist is going to be in great shape after the primary. '"
But then there was Mark Foley.
Early polls showed him well ahead of his Democratic challenger, Jim Davis, and political strategists seemed in agreement that no Democrat would attempt to bring up questions about sexual orientation after seeing Gallagher's campaign decimated by it. At the Crist camp, meanwhile, the matter of the candidate's sexuality was considered closed. Erin Isaac, one of the campaign's spokespeople, refused to allow New Times to interview Crist about his sexuality and the role that questions about it have played in this year's election.
"I know you'll say whatever you want," Isaac said during a curt phone call. "But he won't discuss this. He's not gay. He's not gay."
A week after that phone call, Foley's icky IMs surfaced, and the congressman resigned as the world consumed his leering discussions of masturbation and cock size with a teenaged boy. After Foley vanished, his attorney stepped in front of a microphone in West Palm Beach on October 3 and announced something this newspaper's columnist, Bob Norman, had settled three years ago: that Foley is a gay man.
Not that Foley's sexual orientation had anything to do with his apparent taste for very young men. But suddenly, newspapers around the country were rushing to write stories about the risks that Republican politicians face by remaining in the closet.
So maybe it's no wonder that the rumors about Crist have gone into overdrive. Partly, that's because of an unlikely figure: third-party candidate Max Linn.
Linn is running for Florida governor on the Reform Party ticket. In his previous life as a millionaire financial planner in St. Petersburg, he was a well-connected Republican fundraiser. He rolled with bigwigs like Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg developer who has been influential in Charlie Crist's campaign, and Crist himself, whom Linn has known personally for decades. Linn played an important role behind the scenes in the Republican Party. And recently, he says, he began to hate it.
"I raised millions of dollars for the Republican Party for years," he says. "I know the whole inside game. Both parties are dishonest, both parties lie, both parties deceive. And the American people know it."
Though he says he still considers Crist and other Florida Republicans and fundraisers his friends, his bid for governor has led him to break with his old friends in spectacular ways. Using the campaign managers who worked for Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura, Linn has recast himself as a political wild card. One of his campaign strategies was to star in a cartoon as a superhero who vanquishes the corruption of the FCAT that his managers hoped would make the rounds on YouTube.com.
Now, in what most of Florida considers to be his latest stunt, he talks about Crist's sexuality.
On September 13, a Wednesday afternoon, Linn was politicking on an afternoon talk show on the Orlando-area radio station WFLA-AM (540). Bud Hedinger, host of the show, was peppering Linn with questions about his stances on immigration, education, and his opponents in the race. Annoyed that Hedinger was painting him as a softie on social issues, Linn began talking about Crist.
"It's also been a break that Charlie and his sexual-preference thing is going to come out," Linn told Hedinger, who played the role of astonished innocent to the hilt.
"Where are you going with this?" Hedinger asked. "What are you suggesting about Charlie Crist's sexuality?"
"Well, I think that's a known situation," Linn said.
"Wait a minute," Hedinger said. "Charlie Crist is single, and my understanding is that he was married."
"Well, I've known Charlie for 25 years," Linn continued, unbowed. "The fact is that his sexuality is going to be a huge factor with the Republican right wing."
"Let's get right out here with it: What are you saying about Charlie Crist?"
"Well, that his sexual preference is not to women," Linn replied coolly. "Absolutely, 100 percent, and I'd put my hand on a stack of Bibles. I've known him for 25 years, and that's going to come out. There's no question about it. There's just not an if, and, or but: It's a fact."
After a short stunned silence, Hedinger scolded Linn. "You'd better be right or you're opening yourself up for a real serious smear charge," he said before moving the show along.