Dems set to back Crist in Florida?

With their preferred candidate tanking in the three-way polling in Florida, one might expect Democrats to welcome a challenger in the primary — especially one who can self-fund in a tough year.  The party strategists don’t want to have the Democrats associated with Jeff Greene, the billionaire who made a killing betting against the housing bubble and who represents the kind of investor that their class-warfare arguments routinely target.  Instead, Politico reports that they’re floating the idea of backing Charlie Crist if Greene wins the primary:

The emergence of a politically unknown billionaire self-funder in the Florida Senate race is prompting top Democrats in the state to say publicly what some have been whispering for weeks: If Jeff Greene, who got rich betting on the collapse of the housing market, becomes their nominee, many in the party will have the cover they need to get behind Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Establishment Democrats in Florida, for now, are sticking with Rep. Kendrick Meek, who lags far behind in early general election polls against Crist and Republican Marco Rubio. Yet with Greene promising to drop at least $40 million of his fortune on the primary and pulling neck and neck with Meek in one survey, Sunshine State Democrats are beginning to consider the increasingly realistic prospect that their nominee might be a “meltdown mogul” — one who collects erotic art, had Mike Tyson serve as his best man and once hosted “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss as a house guest.

Faced with such an awkward possibility, many influential Democrats indicated that supporting Crist — who has quickly moved leftward since leaving the GOP — or just remaining quiet would be the better of the unenviable options.

It’s a little hard to take this seriously.  For one thing, Crist himself faces a political and potentially a legal scandal with the arrest and prosecution of his hand-picked party chair Jim Greer.  Are we to believe that a man who legally made hundreds of millions of dollars expertly predicting the collapse of the housing bubble is somehow more culpable than a Governor who arguably turned a blind eye to corruption?

Nor does it make sense to sit on the sidelines, no matter how much of a problem Greene becomes for their national “rich hunt” narrative this fall.  When a political party fails to deliver a credible candidate for a state-wide election, it can damage their prospects for years, both at the ballot box and in fundraising.  One only need look at what happened to the Illinois GOP when Alan Keyes carpetbagged into the US Senate campaign against Barack Obama in 2004 to confirm this.  Abandoning the candidate who won the primary to back Florida’s version of Arlen Specter, or sitting out the race entirely, makes no sense at all.

Besides, isn’t a little hypocritical for Democrats to worry about “erotic art,” especially after leaping to the defense of such publicly-funded masterpieces as “Piss Christ” and the elephant-dung Madonna in their zeal to protect funding for the National Endowment for the Arts?  After all, Greene didn’t use taxpayer money to buy his art.

It’s a little puzzling why Democrats would bother to either bluff or warn in this instance.  While Kendrick Meek is certainly a more rational candidate than Keyes was in 2004, he hasn’t shown any ability to rise to the occasion against either Crist or Marco Rubio.  He consistently trails both in polling for a three-way race, when a Democrat should be taking advantage of the split in the GOP to at least get to second place.  Why not encourage Greene to use his millions to push the obvious also-ran out of the way and attempt to get competitive in Florida for themselves?

Addendum: Thanks to Andrew Malcolm for the pic.