Florida Governor Charlie Crist appears to be on the verge of dropping out of the state’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, in order to launch a bid as an independent candidate. I have followed this race closely for months, as it serves as an instructive test case for the potential impact of the tea party movement on the GOP nominating process. As I have written previously, the movement is likely to have its greatest electoral impact in pushing the Republican candidate selection process in targeted states further to the right than might have otherwise been the case. In Crist’s case, he committed the cardinal sin of offering bipartisan support for President Obama’s stimulus package (famous man hug included). In the time since then, Crist has seen his double-digit lead over former Florida House Speaker and conservative favorite Marco Rubio transformed into a double-digit deficit.
As Crist considers bolting from the GOP primary and running as an independent, he is apparently getting his share of you’ll never work in Republican politics again messages from various party elites. The latter are no doubt concerned that an independent bid by Crist would siphon off moderate Republican votes, as well as those of right-leaning independents. The implication of this message to Crist seems to be that if he quietly gets out of the way of the Rubio juggernaut, then he will have some opportunity and party support to run as a Republican candidate in the future.
I honestly don’t think Crist has anything left to lose at this point. He has been so vilified by conservatives (and tea partiers, in particular) that I don’t sense that there would be any opportunity for him to run again as a Republican in the foreseeable future. The dynamics of the GOP primary process have been so fundamentally altered by movement conservatives that the governor is no longer a good fit for his own state party. Crist surely realizes this, which is why he is likely to take the plunge as an independent by Friday’s filing deadline.
Note:  I will be away tomorrow, and back posting on Friday. -Dean

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