<!--:es-->Fla. gov could benefit from McCain win<!--:-->

Fla. gov could benefit from McCain win

MIAMI – Gov. Charlie Crist took a gamble on John McCain that could pay off for some time to come.

After helping McCain pull off a big victory in Florida’s Republican primary Tuesday, Crist is being talked about as a potential member of a McCain administration.

At the least, Crist raised his national profile and, should McCain prevail, he will have a close friend in the White House.

“If McCain goes on to the nomination, it will really be because of Florida,” said Matthew Corrigan, a University of North Florida political science professor. “It was a big night for McCain and maybe a bigger night for Charlie Crist.”

McCain was locked in a tight race with Mitt Romney for Florida’s 57 delegates — the biggest prize so far on the road to the nomination. Crist endorsed the Arizona senator Saturday night, and McCain won by five points in the winner-take-all election.

Exit polls showed about four in 10 voters said Crist’s endorsement of McCain was important in their decision, and more than half of those actually picked McCain.

Romney was better organized and had more money. He was also starting to win over people who had supported Fred Thompson, said Rich Galen, a Washington-based political adviser who was working for the former Tennessee senator and actor before Thompson dropped out of the race.

But “whatever surge Romney was getting, Crist stopped cold in its track,” Galen said. Crist offered McCain more than words; he put his campaign machinery to work for McCain in the final days of the race. People in all parts of the state began making calls and putting up signs, and law enforcement officials and gun advocates who supported Crist began reaching out to their large memberships. “After the governor endorsed, he basically looked at me and said, `Let’s get the Crist machine going,’” said Arlene DiBenigno, Crist’s deputy chief of staff. “It was getting folks to turn around and basically do what they did for us.”

Galen said Crist could be tapped for a McCain administration, noting the number of governors President Bush appointed to help him, including Pennsylvania’s Tom Ridge, who was picked to head the new Homeland Security Department. Crist could even be named McCain’s running mate, Galen said.

“There’s a lot of things that go into choosing a veep. One of them is carrying a state,” the political adviser said. “That’s a big paypack, but if the endorsement launched him into a trajectory to the nomination, then a big payback is not out of the question.”

Crist, 51, was Florida’s attorney general before being elected governor in 2006. He was a state senator and Florida education commissioner before that. He is seen as a moderate Republican, championing efforts to curb climate change and working to restore the voting rights of ex-convicts. He has also sought to cut property taxes.