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George LeMieux to replace Mel Martinez

From NBC's Mark Murray
First Read has confirmed that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has chosen George LeMieux to fill Mel Martinez's (R) Senate seat.

The pick of LeMieux -- who had formerly served as Crist's campaign manager in 2006 and then Crist's chief of staff -- is the clearest sign yet that this person would be a caretaker of the Senate seat, which Crist is running for next year.

Crist is competing in a GOP primary against Marco Rubio. Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek is running on the Democratic side.

Martinez, who announced that he was stepping down from his Senate seat a few weeks ago, just released this statement: "I congratulate George LeMieux for being appointed by the governor to fill the remainder of my term. George is bright, capable, and an accomplished
administrator. My staff and I stand ready to ensure a smooth transition."

*** UPDATE *** Democrats are seizing on Crist's selection of LeMieux as an example of cronyism.

Here's this statement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: "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. Today marked another Charlie Crist choice that significantly impacts the state of Florida but is ultimately about promoting himself."

And here's the Florida Democratic Party: "Today, Charlie Crist decided to play political games with the public's trust by appointing George LeMieux to the U.S. Senate. 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."