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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to abandon the Republican Party and run for Senate as an independent, made official at a St. Petersburg campaign event today, marks a stunning turnaround for a politician who just over a year ago was heralded as one of the GOP’s brightest young talents.
But Thursday’s rally also represents a general election kick-off for what is now one of the most entertaining and unpredictable races of the midterm election year, a battle between three viable statewide candidates…
Along with the slumping economy, an albatross for any incumbent, it was Rubio’s relentless criticism of Crist for embracing President Obama’s stimulus package that cost the governor precious support among conservative base voters, forcing him to quit the GOP primary altogether.
The Florida Republican Party has been thoroughly taken over by a range of right-wingers using teabaggers as their cheap foot soldiers. Republicans who might be moderates ain’t welcome anymore.
Still, a Quinnipiac University survey of Florida voters released earlier this month indicated that Crist would hold a narrow edge in a three-way contest with Rubio and Meek.
“You can’t compare this to Joe Lieberman in Connecticut or Jesse Ventura in Minnesota or anything like that, because now we are going to have a sitting incumbent governor running as an independent candidate against two traditional party candidates,” said Justin Sayfie, a Republican who supported Crist when he ran for governor in 2006. “There is no textbook example of how you win a race like that…”
As a sitting governor, Crist has the ability to insert himself into the newspaper headlines and local newscasts every day. That free exposure could make up for what he may end up lacking in campaign money.
Crist made several moves in recent weeks — including vetoing a teacher pay bill popular among conservatives and reversing his support for offshore drilling — that made clear he plans to target moderate voters instead of Republican regulars.
“He cares about everyone in the state of Florida, not just Republicans,” State Sen. Mike Fasano said. “I wish we had more politicians like that.”
The ethos of ex-Republicans who became independents because of crap wars and lousy fiscal policy by the Bush and Rove set aren’t exactly in line to be impressed by Rubio’s embrace of the same old sleaze. Crist is someone they could vote for – as a Republican or an Independent.