The Danger Of Looking For Amanda Hugginkiss : It's All Politics It's been one year since Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) hugged President Obama during a visit to push the president's economic stimulus package. And it may be the event that dooms Crist's chances of making it to the Senate.
NPR logo The Danger Of Looking For Amanda Hugginkiss

The Danger Of Looking For Amanda Hugginkiss

The famous "hug" between President Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist of a year ago threatens to kill Crist's hopes of making it to the Senate. (Charles Dharapak/AP) hide caption

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The famous "hug" between President Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist of a year ago threatens to kill Crist's hopes of making it to the Senate. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

There's a famous joke on "The Simpsons," where Bart, making a crank call in a disguised voice, dials up Moe, the proprietor of Moe's Tavern.

Moe, after listening, says, "Yeah, just a sec. I'll check." Then he puts down the phone and says, in a loud voice, "Amanda Hugginkiss? Hey, I'm lookin' for Amanda Hugginkiss. Why can't I find Amanda Hugginkiss?"

His plea is immediately followed by this wisecrack from Barney, the resident drunk: "Maybe your standards are too high!"

Moe quickly learns that he was set up.

Politicians might also want to learn the perils of hugging and kissing, and I'm not talking about sex scandals here. I'm talking about hugging and kissing a president of the opposite party.

Lieberman's "hug" with Clinton didn't make up for his "kiss" with Bush. hide caption

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Lieberman's "hug" with Clinton didn't make up for his "kiss" with Bush.

Four years ago, the victim was Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Then a Democrat, Lieberman had angered many progressive Democrats for his support for the Bush war policy in Iraq. It got even worse when he was embraced by President Bush after the 2005 State of the Union speech, in which Bush appeared to give Lieberman a little kiss on the cheek.

That image became ammunition for Ned Lamont, a liberal, who decided to challenge Lieberman for the Democratic Senate nomination in 2006. Once a clear longshot, Lamont used the Bush-Lieberman kiss in his advertisements (including this wonderful campaign button), which put the senator on the defensive. Lieberman came back with a button of his own — showing him hugging a more popular figure, Bill Clinton — but it wasn't enough. Lamont won the primary.

Lieberman, of course, became an independent and won re-election in a three-way contest in November against Lamont and a much forgettable Republican.

The "hug" is now in the process of taking down another politician.

A year ago, when President Obama had just offered his $787 billion economic stimulus program and was riding high in the polls, he was in Florida selling his plan. He was met by Gov. Charlie Crist, a popular Republican who was planning on running for an open Senate seat.

Crist gave the president a hug.

That was then. Since that time, Obama's numbers have fallen. And the hug has helped take Crist down with him. The governor didn't make his case any more persuasive when he said he really didn't "endorse" the stimulus package, he was just showing respect for the president of the United States. "I'm a civil guy," he said at the time. To this day, he still won't say bad things about the stimulus package, arguing that it has saved the jobs of 20,000 teachers.

That all may be true. But there are several problems at work here. First of all, no one shows respect for anyone in politics these days; it's against the rules. Civility is out. And second of all, it enables ideologues of one side or the other to paint you as a softie. And that's what's happened to Crist and his fellow Republicans.

Once upon a time, Marco Rubio — like Lamont in Connecticut — was a decided underdog. A strong conservative who is the former speaker of the Florida House, Rubio decided to take on Crist in the Aug. 24 Senate primary, claiming the governor was a "RINO" — Republican In Name Only. It seemed a pipedream, at best, a year ago. Not so anymore. As Democratic fortunes have fallen, conservative numbers are on the rise; witness the Tea Party phenomena.

This week, Rubio celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Crist-Obama hug. He campaigned in Fort Myers, exactly in the spot where the infamous hug took place.

Polls now show Rubio with a lead. And the catalyst is the "hug."

This is not the kind of hug and kiss that the National Enquirer might want to focus on. But it may have the same effect.