Crist to Run an an Independent in Florida
When NRSC chairman John Cornyn (R-TX) recruited Florida's sitting governor, Charlie Crist (R-FL) to run for the
Senate seat vacated midterm by Mel Martinez, little did he realize what was going to happen in the Sunshine State.
He (and all the pundits) "knew" Crist's election as senator was about a certain a bet as you can get in politics.
The subsequent entry of an unknown former Speaker of the state House, Marco Rubio, was regarded as a joke and polls showed
Crist 20 to 30 points ahead of Rubio in the Republican primary. That was then. This is now. Friday, Crist left the
Republican Party after numerous polls put him 20 to 30 points behind Rubio, an unprecedented drop for a candidate
(in the words of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards) not found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.
Instead, Crist is going to
run as independent against Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.
Crist starts out with more than a few problems. First, he has already been
if not condemned, by virtually every leading Republican in the state and country, all of whom will now
line up very solidly behind Rubio. This
Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL), his former campaign manager and chief aide, who was appointed to the Senate
by none other than Crist.
Second, virtually all his big donors have or will soon desert him. Any big-shot donor who gives him money and later
wants to have much influence in the Republican Party can forget about it. So Crist is going to have a lot of trouble
raising money. In fact, some donors who already gave him money will demand it back. He currently has $7.5 million cash
on hand, but refunds may depelete his bank account quickly. And Florida is an
extremely expensive state to run it, with over a dozen major media markets.
Third, the tea partiers are going to regard this as a "victory" as big as the NY-23 special election last year
where an extremely right-wing independent, Doug Hoffman, drove a moderate Republican, Dede Scozzafava, from the race--thus
allowing a Democrat to win the district for the first time since the Civil War. But a victory is a victory, no matter how Pyrrhic.
This will only energize them more and cause them to go all out for Rubio.
Fourth, Crist will not be listed third on the ballot, but
or lower. Florida law says the incumbent's party
gets the first slot and the other major party is second. These are followed by minor parties in the order of
qualifying. The Libertarian Party and Constitution Party have already qualified, and the Surfer's party and
Possibility Party may yet qualify. After them come the names of people not running on any party line, in order
of qualification. Sue Askeland, Bruce Ray Riggs, Bobbie Bean and Rick Tyler qualified before Crist so they will
be above him on the ballot. As people who followed the 2000 presidential election may remember, ballot position
is a big deal in Florida.
Fifth, so far nobody has asked Crist which party he will caucus with if elected. That question is likely to come up
sooner or later. There have been numerous independent
governors in recent times, such as Angus King of Maine and Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, but truly independent
senators don't exist. If a senator refuses to caucus with the Democrats and refuses to caucus with the Republicans,
he has no influence on policy and nobody to give him committee assignments. It is untenable. There are two
independents in the Senate now, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. Bernie Sanders is to the left of the
Democrats, not in the middle and Joe Lieberman was a Democrat for 40 years before losing the 2006 senatorial primary.
Crist is going to have to choose sides and no matter what he says, he is going to anger a lot of people.
Sixth, most of his staff has either already quit or will soon do so. Any staffer who wants to work for the
Republicans in the future had better see the handwriting on the wall and drop Crist like a stone. And any new
staffers signing up to work for him can forget about working for either party in the future. Where is Crist going
to find experienced staffers?
Seventh, and completely out of the blue, is the
candidacy of billionaire Jeff Greene--as a Democrat.
Greene made most of his money betting against the Florida housing market--a small-scale version of Goldman Sachs.
But convincing Floridians who lost their house to vote for someone who profitted immensely from their misery will be
a tough sell. The reason this may hurt Crist is it brings attention to the Democratic race and makes the likely
Democratic candidate, congressman Kendrick Meek, look like the only adult in state politics.
Still, Crist is not a basket case. He is still a popular incumbent governor. While the far right despises his moderate
positions and the hug he gave Obama last year, unlike in the Republican primary, Democrats and independents get to vote
in the general election, and many of them still like him, have never heard of Meek, and have definitely heard of
Rubio and don't like any of it. Crist's best strategy now is to tack to the left and try to peel off enough
Democrats and moderates to cut off Meek's oxygen supply. If Meek collapses in the coming months and Crist can
frame the race as the moderate Crist against the wingnut Rubio, he could pull this off. But that is a big "if."
Expect lots of polls next week, but don't take any of them seriously. It will be weeks before the situation even
begins to stablize as a race with a sitting governor running as an independent against both a Democrat and a
Republican for a Senate seat has never happened before.
Brown-Waite to Retire from Congress after This Session
Rep. Ginny Waite-Brown has announced
that she will not run for a fifth term in FL-05 due to a health problem. She has endorsed
Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent (R) to replace her. The district has a PVI of R+9, so Nugent is probably the
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