Crist still seeking to fill Senate seat

TALLAHASSEE — Nine candidates remained in the running Monday after U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young told Gov. Charlie Crist he wasn’t interested in filling the remaining term of resigning U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Crist is expected to name a replacement for the Orlando Republican later this week. He said he didn’t anticipate adding anyone else to the list “at this time.”

“They are all capable and all are very qualified,” Crist said.

All — like Crist — also are Republicans. Young, who has served nearly 40 years in Congress, withdrew during an airport meeting with the governor in Clearwater.

Crist, who is running for the Senate seat in next year’s election, traveled across the state Monday to visit with former U.S. Reps. Clay Shaw, Michael Bilirakis and Lou Frey as well as with Jim Smith, a former Florida attorney general and secretary of state. He is now a lobbyist.

Crist met with Shaw at Miami International Airport and then flew to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport to interview Bilirakis and Young. Frey and Smith met with him later at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Frey, one of three candidates Crist added to the list Sunday. “I thought I wasn’t in the ball game at all.”

Frey said he knows many current senators from his time as a congressman — 1969 to 1979 — and had been successful in getting legislation passed even though Republicans then were in the minority as they are now.

Crist said being a lobbyist was not a drawback for Smith and that he had confidence in his integrity.

Smith said he also had been a lobbyist before running for attorney general and no one ever accused him of abusing that position.

“I certainly know the difference between a narrow, self-private interest and a public interest,” Smith said.

The governor previously had interviewed former state Sen. Dan Webster, who also once served as House speaker; state Rep. Jennifer Carroll; former U.S. Attorney Bobby Martinez, now a member of the State Board of Education; University of North Florida President John Delaney, also a former Jacksonville mayor, and Tallahassee lawyer George LeMieux, Crist’s former chief of staff.