Drawing the ire of the national Republican establishment, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist officially declared that he is running as an Independent in the 2010 Florida Senate race. Spurred on by recent polls indicating that Crist would fare better in the U.S. Senate race as an independent, Crist has been fueling speculation of this decision for several days.
Speaking briefly to a crowd of supporters Thursday at 5:45 p.m. in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., and flanked by family and cheered on by teachers in the crowd, Crist touched on themes such as standing up for the people of Florida, fixing the broken political system in Washington and relying on the people of Florida, not a political party, to secure victory for him in November. He also indicated that his Independent run would be unprecedented and risky. Time will tell if Crist’s risk taking was worth it.
This bold political move will set up a three-way race between Crist, Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, and Republican Marco Rubio. Today’s announcement changes the dynamics in the general election, suddenly turning this into a competitive affair. Most national polls have had Rubio leading Crist by double-digits in the primary, and also edging out Meeks in the general election. With this new dynamic, all bets are off. After spending the last several weeks meeting with constituents, and fielding calls and emails from the people of Florida, Crist has gained confidence that he may actually draw voters away from both the Republican Rubio and the Democrat Meeks.
Serving as a first term governor, Crist was very well regarded for most of his term, until recently seeing a popularity decline in concert with the surging campaign of Rubio. But as the last elected Commissioner of Education and first elected Attorney General in the state, Crist is a veteran of Florida political campaigns and has a firm command of the political landscape in his state. Some consider the recent polling numbers to be a reflection of lost support among republican faithful in light of recent legislative decisions made by Crist and beginning with his acceptance of Federal Stimulus money from the Obama administration. Crist also recently requested a federal investigation of the Florida GOP in the possible abuse of power, corruption, and misuse of funds. The US Attorney, IRS, and FBI are all investigating the Florida GOP for credit card use.
Always considered a moderate, Crist will undoubtedly depend on his broad bipartisan appeal to help overcome the gap that exists between him and Rubio among Florida Republicans. Crist may also have secured a very powerful ally in the vast number of public school teachers who are lining up behind Crist after the governor vetoed a controversial bill passed in the Florida House and Senate that would have changed the way teachers were compensated and evaluated. Crist may also benefit from distancing himself from a Florida Republican party that is mired in controversy. Charlie Crist is no longer depending on the Republican party, but is now depending on the people of Florida to make their choice.
Florida Education Association
St. Petersburg Times