While he was a Republican Senate candidate, Charlie Crist didn't have an inner circle so much as a triangle. And all three points on that triangle were from Broward County. George LeMieux, the governor's former chief of staff, whom Crist appointed to the U.S. Senate last August; Eric Eikenberg, who replaced LeMieux as chief of staff, then moved to take over Crist's campaign last fall; then Shane Strum, a former LeMieux deputy who is the current chief of staff.
Juice commented on this triumvirate in October with this post. LeMieux was first to leave Club Crist, switching his endorsement to Marco Rubio. Eikenberg is quitting the Crist campaign after today, without even another job lined up. And you can bet that Strum is already looking for new work. [See update below] Strum might have been able to run Crist's new campaign; instead, Crist is going to hire his sister.
What happened behind the scenes between Crist and the Broward boys?
Only they know. But we know enough to make an informed guess. Personally, I suspect that as Crist's political star fell, he began to realize that LeMieux wasn't as good a friend as he thought he was.
Appointing LeMieux to the U.S. Senate changed the dynamic between the two. It was the furthest that LeMieux could go by riding Crist's coattails -- and it was pretty damned high. But suddenly, LeMieux no longer had the same incentive to keep himself in Crist's good graces. There wasn't some higher position of power he could imagine could come from the association. At best, Crist would win U.S. Senate, make LeMieux his chief of staff -- or a filthy rich lobbyist -- and then LeMieux would have to win Bill Nelson's seat in the Senate in 2012.
That was a far-fetched scenario in the first place, but especially so after Crist's poll numbers took a nosedive. The association with Crist would no longer help LeMieux's own political ambitions; it would actually hurt his future candidacies.
What's more, LeMieux has surely enjoyed his time on Capitol Hill, perhaps so much that he feels he belongs there -- and expects Florida voters have come to the same conclusion. So maybe he feels bullish about his chances to knock off Nelson in 2012. But he'll need the Republican Party to do so, and that means throwing his old buddy Charlie under the bus.
It's harder to tell what happened -- or is going to happen -- between Crist and the two other Broward natives. But my guess is that Strum and Eikenberg emulated their homeboy LeMieux more fervently than they admired Crist and that they're liable to follow LeMieux.
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It's also possible that Crist has come to realize that Broward is a treacherous place to make friends -- his pal Scott Rothstein didn't do him any favors either.
For nostalgia's sake, check out this recent article from Sunshine State News. It tells of the ride on Rothstein's private jet to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, with Strum on board.
UPDATE: I've heard from a couple of sources now that Strum is going to stay by Crist's side. If so, it's a smart move on his part. Polls show an independent Crist is leading in the Senate race, and he'll need to build a new inner circle to replace the old triangle.
But my point remains that since Crist has been burned by his other Broward friends, he has every reason to be wary of Strum. Crist's hiring his sister for such an important job in the campaign is a clear sign that Crist is having a crisis of faith in his political advisers.