It may be the worst-kept secret in American politics today, and it’s apparently about to become a reality. Reliable sources informed me today that embattled Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose early lead in his US Senate Republican primary race against former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio has essentially reversed itself in the polls, is preparing to announce sooner rather than later that he will leave the GOP and continue his run for Senate as an independent. Sources add that the speech Crist will use in his announcement is now being drafted…
The only thing that likely would stop a Crist independent run now is for the pressure from disillusioned Republicans and longtime Crist supporters to put so much pressure on him not to run at all that he relents. That pressure is mounting almost by the hour. Or that pressure could only speed up his party switch.
That’s from Matt Towery, whose sources insist that a third-party run is a “done deal.” The Journal’s hearing similar rumbles that, while he hasn’t committed to it yet, he’s gaming it out and trying to stop the hemorrhaging of staff, supporters, and donors. Who’ll be his army on the ground as Republican backers quit the field? Why, according to the Journal, the teachers union, silly! He just did them a huge favor by vetoing a bill that would tie their salaries to their actual performance. They owe him for striking a blow against merit and accountability, don’t they?
Bear that in mind as you read this Time analysis of his likely campaign message:
Crist’s comments, say pundits, were meant as a cold mug of Earl Grey in the face of the conservative Tea Party movement that has done so much to scuttle his once powerful GOP Senate primary run — a campaign that National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer said, in a Monday memo, Crist should now give up. More important, pundits say, Crist was signaling his likely strategy as an independent: co-opt the Tea Party’s language of frustration with America’s tone-deaf and ineffectual political culture, but aim it at Republicans and Democrats alike…
Crist “was definitely telegraphing how he’ll run as an independent,” says Aubrey Jewett, a political analyst at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Jewett notes that Crist did it again this week in a speech at his old high school in St. Petersburg. Crist said he initially supported the education bill’s quest for stronger teacher evaluation — which Florida could admittedly use more of, especially since that was a big reason it lost out last month in its bid for a $1 billion federal Race to the Top education grant. But he said its drafters became as “ideologically greedy” to punish public education as liberals so often are to pamper it. As a result, “as an independent he’ll emphasize that he’s taking on the two-party system,” says Florida GOP political consultant Cory Tilley, a former Jeb Bush spokesman. “That could be a very effective message for him.”
Yes, three cheers for Charlie Crist, the candidate of entrenched incumbent power, whose awakening to political independence was inspired by the noble virtues of naked ambition and transparent opportunism. And of course he’s a stimulus supporter and a newly minted union crony to boot. Truly he is the very incarnation of the tea-party ethos.
Exit question: Which way is the media going to break in covering this? Rubio is safely cast in the role of Satanic Rethuglikkkan, but if they push the “Charlie vs. the wingnuts” meme too much, they risk freezing out their preferred candidate, a.k.a. Kendrick Meek. Tough call.
Update: A smart piece from Chris Cillizza on why Crist isn’t the second coming of Joe Lieberman. I mentioned one reason yesterday — Lieberman vs. Lamont was a two-man race even in the general election whereas this will be a true three-man contest — but he has several others.