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Charlie Crist's Marco Rubio-bashing team handling Mitt Romney media

In 2009  and 2010, before he fled the Republican Party, Gov. Charlie Crist was fighting an increasingly losing and bitter battle against Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate. The strategy to beat Rubio: Call him a crook and a hypocrite.

Among the people who helped shape or spread the message: Stuart Stevens, Andrea Saul and Amanda Hennenberg. When Crist left the party, they all left the campaign.

Today, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced the hiring of Hennenberg, who joins Saul and Stevens. It's quite an irony for Florida political hands. A year ago, the three came to bury Rubio. Now, the campaign they work for praises him. Romney has suggested he'd like Senator Rubio as a running mate.

Another turn of events: some Romney supporters were recently bashing rival Rick Perry for hiring Crist campaign consultants Rich Heffley, Randy Enwright and Jim Rimes, who also dropped Crist when he left the party.

In all fairness to any of the Republicans working for Crist, they didn't know how erratic and deceptive he had become as he denied he was going to leave the party just before he did. As for Saul and Hennenberg specificall, they were following orders. The campaign leaders, Stevens and Eric Eikenberg (and, to a degree, then-Sen. and current Senate candidate George LeMieux) were plotting strategy.

"Andrea was always frustrated. She didn't like the direction of the campaign. She wasn't included in the mix," said Jim Greer, Crist's former Republican Party of Florida chairman. "The governor did not return calls from his own staff. It was a very dysfunctional campaign."

Greer later added that Eikenberg and Stevens were also deeply frustrated with Crist, who was growing more erratic by the day. "If Crist had not left the GOP, most senior staff and consultants would have resigned anyway," Greer said in a just-sent text.

But Stevens was to Crist (and Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Mel Martinez) what he is to Romney: The campaign message mastermind.

"He was directing things," Greer said. "He was very involved. He's the guy you go to in politics to deliver the message. He's good."

Although, one of the campaign ads attacking Rubio did lead Talking Heads singer David Byrne to sue Crist (more here). And Stevens knew Crist was fighting an uphill battle.

As Adam C. Smith and Michael C. Bender reported recently in Greer's criminal case:

Rubio was generating buzz in national political circles, and Crist’s media consultant urged a strategy meeting as soon as possible in an email to Crist’s top political advisers — Greer, chief of staff Eric Eikenberg and Washington lobbyist Mitch Bainwol.

“This has the feel of becoming a cause,” consultant Stuart Stevens emailed. “I am flat out concerned about this spinning into a nasty dynamic. I’ve done a zillion primaries. . . . There is nothing I like about this dynamic as presently constructed. If MR represents Hispanics and conservatives, those are two key groups CC needs in 2010 and beyond. It complicates everything.”

Complicated indeed.