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Crist Appoints Former Chief of Staff to Succeed Martinez

Updated: 2:48 p.m.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) on Friday tapped his former chief of staff, George LeMieux, to replace Sen. Mel Martinez (R), who is set to resign his seat before the Senate returns to work early next month.

“These are historic times in our state and in our nation and the people of Florida deserve a continuity of representation in Washington right now to protect their best interests,— LeMieux said in a statement. “I am honored by Governor Crist’s confidence in my commitment to serve and am honored by the opportunity to represent this great state.—

At 40 years old LeMieux will become the youngest Senator in the chamber when he is sworn in. The former Broward County Republican Party chairman graduated from Georgetown University’s law school in 1994 and currently serves as chairman of the board of directors at the law firm of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart. According to a biography on his law firm’s Web site, LeMieux’s areas of practice include commercial, business and governmental litigation and corporate and strategic counseling.

A Crist loyalist, LeMieux ran the governor’s 2006 campaign and emerged last week as a top contender for the appointment out of a field that eventually included 10 names. That list included several Hispanic candidates — including former U.S. Attorney Bob Martinez, whom some viewed as the frontrunner to get the nod — to replace Mel Martinez, who is Cuban-American. LeMieux’s job will simply be to keep the Senate seat warm until next November’s election, which Crist is the early favorite to win. But before he can get there Crist is facing a vigorous primary challenge from former state Speaker Marco Rubio. The winner will likely face Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) in the general election.

Meek panned Crist’s pick in a statement Friday morning.

“The Governor added another addition to his campaign team at taxpayers’ expense,— Meek said. “George LeMieux doesn’t represent Floridians facing economic challenges — he represents privileged clients with expense accounts far removed from the realities Floridians are facing.—

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wasted little time before criticizing Crist for tapping LeMieux.

“Charlie Crist came as close as he could to appointing himself to this position. At a time when so many Floridians are unemployed, and many others facing foreclosures, we have learned nothing is beyond the pale for Charlie Crist,— said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. “Today marked another Charlie Crist choice that significantly impacts the state of Florida but is ultimately about promoting himself.—

National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer countered that Democrats have little room to criticize given the fact that Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) was appointed as a placeholder to fill Vice President Joseph Biden’s Senate seat earlier this year. Kaufman, like LeMieux, is a former chief of staff; he worked for Biden. Also, Kaufman is not running for a full term in 2010, when it is widely expected that Biden’s son will be a candidate.

“The Democrats’ desperate criticisms ring hollow, especially considering they stayed mum when Joe Biden had Ted Kaufman appointed to keep his’ seat warm earlier this year,— Jesmer said.

Martinez and the Florida Republican Party issued statements Friday morning congratulating LeMieux after Crist announced his appointment.

“George is bright, capable, and an accomplished administrator,— Martinez said. “My staff and I stand ready to ensure a smooth transition.—

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