Can Rubio win?

When Crist switched to independent, he was regarded as a goner. But he’s recovered. His handling of the Gulf oil spill has been skillful, and his flip-flops on issues haven’t hurt him appreciably. “Republicans see it as treason,” says Quinnipiac’s Peter Brown. “Independents see it in a different light. Democrats like it.”

At the moment, Crist is getting a quarter of the Republican vote. This probably won’t last. “This is a great year to be a Republican,” says LeMieux, a perceptive analyst of Florida politics. “A lot of those Republicans who like Governor Crist personally are going to come home.” And vote for Rubio.

This means Crist’s ability to attract Democratic votes is critical. He’s hired Josh Isay, a former aide to Democratic senator Chuck Schumer, and his Democratic consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, along with several other Democratic strategists.

The White House surely could have blocked Democratic operatives from signing on with Crist. But neither President Obama nor Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, intervened. Obama endorsed Meek months ago but has done little to help him. Meek got 13 percent in the Quinnipiac survey.

A competitive Democratic nominee would actually help Rubio by keeping Democrats from defecting to Crist. “I can’t imagine the Obama administration’s political machine abandoning the Democratic nominee, especially if it’s Meek,” Jeb Bush says.