Charlie Crist: I'm "certainly listening" to the people telling me to run as an indie; Update: Crist says he's undecided

He’s a listener, you see.

Gov. Charlie Crist sat down with ABC Action News reporter Sarina Fazan Monday afternoon. When asked about whether or not he will run as an independent in the race for U.S. Senate, he said he has not made up his mind yet.

“I can tell you I’m getting a lot of advice in that direction. I’m a listener and so I’m certainly listening to it,” said Crist.

My hunch is that he’ll drop out entirely and not run as an indie. Crist, by all accounts, is stridently ambitious even by the standards of national pols, but if he gambles now and loses, his political career’s over. The risk is simply too great. He can’t switch parties after burning his bridges to the GOP either since there’s a Democratic incumbent occupying the state’s other Senate seat. The prudent course of action would be to bow out, regroup, then start lining up support inside the party to thwart George Lemieux (whom Crist himself appointed) in case he decides he’d like to take a shot at challenging Bill Nelson in 2012 too. In fact, Crist’s staffers could force him to bow out if enough of them quit over his decision to go indie. Rich Lowry reports that Cornyn and crew are indeed working behind the scenes to make sure that happens, reaching out both to his staff and to Republican consultants to lean on Crist so that’s perfectly clear on what this will cost him. Another good point from Lowry:

Crist’s standing in the Republican party would collapse. Everyone has long known that Jeb Bush, Crist’s predecessor as governor, basically backs Rubio. While Bush’s feelings about Crist became a little more public after the Crist’s veto of the big education-reform bill on Thursday, Bush has still held off issuing a public endorsement. If Crist quit the party, though, Bush would no longer hold back. Neither would the rest of the Republican establishment. Crist turns in a relatively strong showing as an independent in the Quinnipiac poll right now because he still gets 30 percent of Republicans. That number would begin to diminish immediately once he broke with the GOP…

Crist entered the Senate race a presumed fundraising behemoth. No more. Rubio outraised Crist last quarter, $3.6 million to $1.1 million. Crist would have trouble raising even that much as an independent. He’d still get some business money — the privilege of being a governor — but his Republican sources would dry up. The theory that he can turn to the teachers’ union, which was pleased by his veto of the education bill, seems far-fetched. Crist has millions in cash-on-hand, but going forward he’d be a man without a country as a fundraiser.

Indeed. With attractive party nominees to choose from in Rubio and Meek, is there really 34 percent in the middle of the Florida electorate willing to opt for Charlie Crist instead? After he blatantly lied on Fox News Sunday just three weeks ago about how he’d never run as an independent?

Apropos of nothing, I’ve donated to exactly two political campaigns in my life but if Crist goes third-party, I’ll cut Rubio a check the very day he announces. When Lieberman ran as an independent after dropping the primary to Ned Lamont four years ago, Democrats could console themselves with the fact that the seat would indeed end up in Democratic hands one way or another. The Republican simply wasn’t a factor. That’s not the case here: This is potentially a true disaster scenario, where Crist peels off just enough centrists and Republicans from Rubio to hand the seat to Kendrick Meek. I’ve blathered on endlessly about how tea partiers could destroy the GOP’s chances in November by voting independent, but lo and behold, it’s a centrist who’s now poised to do the most damage in that regard. If he does this — and I don’t think he will — he must be stopped. Prepare your checkbook.

Update: He says he’s not bowing out, and since his chances of winning the GOP primary are now precisely zero, I guess that means he’s going indie. Unbelievable.

In an exclusive interview, Gov. Charlie Crist (R., Fla.) tells National Review Online that “damn right, I’m staying in this race.” He tells us that he will not run as a Democrat. “I was never going to do that.” He will either stay in the GOP Senate primary or he will choose to run as an independent by the April 30 deadline. As of today, he says he is “still undecided” about which of those two options he will pursue.

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” Crist says. “I’m having the time of my life.” This will-he, won’t-he talk, he adds, is “getting way too much attention . . . there is way too much focus on candidates. I’m trying to stay focused on governing.” If people think he’s “in a corner,” then they’re “wrong,” he says. “I’d argue the exact opposite. I don’t succumb to pressure.”

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