Did Charlie Crist pull ads in Florida?

The St. Petersburg Times blog The Buzz notes a couple of potentially significant developments in the Republican Senate primary in Florida.  First, it appears that Charlie Crist has pulled his advertising in the Orlando and Tampa Bay markets after initially running strongly negative attack ads against Marco Rubio:

The Marco Rubio campaign says Charlie Crist has halted all its TV advertising in the Orlando and Tampa Bay markets where the anti-Rubio spots were airing. That’s presumably a sign that Crist has decided to marshal his resources for later or perhaps drop out altogether.

That could indicate a couple of different outcomes. Crist’s campaign may have discovered that the negative ads had no effect on the polling in those markets and perhaps didn’t have replacement positive ads ready for airing. It could also be a prelude to declaring himself as an independent, which would mean that Crist could save his money for the general election instead of spending all of it now. That seems less likely after Crist confidante George LeMieux, who currently fills that Senate seat as a temporary appointee, appeared this morning on MS-NBC and insisted Crist wouldn’t run as an independent:

Meanwhile George LeMieux just appeared on The Daily Rundown on MSNBC and dismissed the prospect of Crist dropping out of the GOP primary and running as a no party affiliation candidate.

“I have every reason to believe that Charlie Crist is running as a Republican and this independent thing will not happen,” LeMieux said.

Crist has another option, one getting increasing attention in the past few weeks. Instead of sticking around for a divisive battle with Rubio this year, Crist could withdraw and spend a couple of years rebuilding himself for a 2012 challenge against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. The state GOP would likely encourage Crist by promising better support the next time around if Crist doesn’t get in Rubio’s way to the Senate this year. The big question will be whether Crist has taken too much damage in this cycle to be viable in 2012 if another Rubio-like conservative decides to toss his or her hat in the ring.

Pulling the ads makes it look like Crist has come to some sort of decision — and we won’t have to wait much longer to see what it is. The filing deadline is eleven days away.

Update: Reid Wilson reports for National Journal that top officials in the national GOP believe Crist will go rogue:

Top GOP officials in DC now believe it is a virtual certainty that FL Gov. Charlie Crist (R) will bolt the GOP and run instead as an independent, sources tell Hotline OnCall.

Over the weekend, Crist pulled TV advertisements that had been running in key markets, slamming ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R). Those ads, on which Crist spent close to $1.5M so far, were aimed at moving poll numbers that showed Crist losing badly.

In taking the ads down, top GOP officials have surmised both that Crist has made his decision to run as an independent, and that the attacks weren’t having an impact on the race.

If so, expect that announcement sooner rather than later.

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