WASHINGTON (CNN) - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist tapped Friday one of his former aides, George LeMieux, to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.
LeMieux - like Crist and Martinez - is a Republican. He will serve out the remainder of Martinez's term, which expires in January 2011.
Martinez released a statement calling LeMieux a "bright, capable, and an accomplished administrator" and promised "a smooth transition."
Florida Democrats immediately blasted the pick, arguing in a statement that LeMieux's "only qualification is being Charlie Crist's crony."
"Today, Charlie Crist decided to play political games with the public's trust by appointing George LeMieux to the U.S. Senate," said Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.
"This glaring example of political cronyism is the last thing Florida needed while we face these tough economic times and the Congress is tackling critical issues such as health insurance reform and global warming," Thurman added.
Martinez was first elected to the Senate in 2004. He previously announced in December his intention to retire at the end of his term.
Crist, in turn, announced in May that he would not seek a second term as governor and instead would run for Martinez's seat in the 2010 election.
Three weeks ago, Martinez said he had changed his mind and decided to resign his seat as soon as a replacement could be named. He stated that he had decided to resign of his "own free will."
"There is no impending reason," he said. "It's only my desire to move on and to get on with the rest of my life."
Martinez is the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate. He recently joined eight other Republicans in voting to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Martinez is also one of six Republican senators who have stated they would not seek re-election next year. But the Florida senator is the second Republican who has decided to leave before the curtain drops on the 111th Congress next fall.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, recently announced her intention to quit the Senate three years before her term expires, in order to run for governor next year.
The five other Republicans who are retiring are Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning and Ohio Sen. George Voinovich.
Two Democrats will not run in 2010: Illinois Sen. Roland Burris and Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman. The Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority this week with the death of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Republicans must defend 19 seats next year, and Democrats must protect 18.
–CNN's John King and Mark Preston contributed to this report
Ok, Christ you lost the Cuban vote.
Charlie Christ.... *yawn*...
Let's see, a senator who has little political experience?
Sounds just a little too much like our president and the dozens of czars he's appointed.
So what's the dimocrats complaint?
I wonder how many Floridians have ever heard of this guy that is now representing them in the US Senate?!?!?!?
Karen Thurman doesn't seem to know more about George LeMieux then that he served the state of Florida under Crist.
O great, another nobody in the Senate whose job is to do nothing but keep the seat warm for his buddy.
That's the nice thing about being able to select a successor – you can put anyone you want in the seat so they won't be a serious threat to you when the primary rolls around.
Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate!!!
The only surprise here is that he didn't just go ahead and appoint himself. This was his next best option if he wanted to reserve the senate seat for himself in the next election cycle, which he obviously did.
Crist will have his full in the GOP primary against Marco Rubio. Rubio is young, energetic and passionate about the issues.
Actually, the president's appointments have been qualified. However, the same cannot be said for the former president. Apparently, Crist has taken a play from GWB's playbook.
My guess is that the people that are criticizing this pick are the same people defending the hypocrisy that is surrounding the replacement for Sen. Teddy Kennedy.
Charlie is the worse Governor Florida has ever had. He is firmly in the pocket of big business and nearly bankrupt the state. If he thinks appointing a nobody to be a seat warmer for him he is in for a surprise. Florida is tired of this moron, and his party.
As opposed to every other Governors' appointees who've been overwhelmingly qualified. Just look at Delaware or Illinois. Oh, wait, I'm sure the Democrats don't want to call our attention to those states.
Isn't this the same thing that Dems want to happen in Massachusetts right now with the death of Kennedy?
The only problem with appointing someone to keep the seat warm for you is if this guy makes a mistake Gov. Crist will have to share the blame. Every vote this Senator makes will be scrutinized by the Gov. challengers.
OK People, Gov. Crist is the Republican Governor of the state and as such, it should be expected that he would appoint a Republican to fill the Senate seat. Give the man credit for doing what was expected of the Governor. That is politics. Had he been a Democratic Governor, he would have appointed another Democrat to fill the seat. I am not a supporter of Gov. Crist but you need to consider that making an appointment is not something that is going to meet with the approval of every person in the state. That is the way things go.
Come on Down, the price is Right! Vote Rubio and get rid of this RINO! Downsize the government payroll instead of raising taxes!
And just how are all of the Obamanation's picks not pure examples of Cronyism?
This is as opposed to all the other Governors' appointees who have been overwhelmingly qualified? Just look at Delaware and Illinois. Oh, right, I'm sure the Democrats don't want us to look at those states.
Neo-goons should clean the rightwing infestation from their own houses before worrying about any broken galss in the [D]s houses. debra r should take note that the Mass. [D]s have done everything by the LAW...and since they were elected to office, they have the power to change the LAW as they and their constituents see fit. There is no hypocrisy there at all, just politics as usual. To try to compare the ongoing delusion and hypocrisy that is everywhere embalming the [R] party to the LAWFUL exercise of power in Mass. is just another sign that cognitive thought is a lost art within the rightwing underbelly.
Christ may have a "close personal relationship" with the former aide and that is a way of keeping him content. Quite a bargaining chip.
OK Gov. Crist, you got your choice in Florida so now we want ours in Mass. to temporarily replace the great Senator Kennedy with another Democractic one until there is a special election .A.S.A.P!!!!
It is all about who you know, not what you know.
And Ted Kennedy and Deval Patrick weren't plotting to "play political games with the public's trust" by changing state law to ensure a Democratic replacement for Kennedy?