Friday, April 30, 2010

All In and All Out

Gov. Crist makes it official.

Gov. Charlie Crist didn’t just walk away from the Republican Party Thursday — he ran, saying he would abandon his lifelong GOP voter registration as he launches an independent and unprecedented campaign for the U.S. Senate.

”I know this is uncharted territory,” said Crist, flanked by his parents, three sisters and wife at a hastily thrown-together rally of about 300 supporters in a downtown St. Petersburg park. ”I’m aware of that. I am aware that after this speech ends, I don’t have either party helping me. I need you, you the people, more than ever.”

Casting his decision as putting ”the people” before politics, Crist said, ”As someone who has served the people of Florida for 15 years, from the state Senate to the Governor’s Mansion, I can confirm what most Floridians already know: Unfortunately, our political system is already broken.”

Left unsaid was the obvious reason for his decision: Former House Speaker Marco Rubio was poised to trounce him in the Aug. 24 Republican primary, in one of the most stunning reversals in Florida politics.

Not to be too cynical here, but when a politician says, “It’s not about me, it’s about you — the people,” it’s all about him.

At least he didn’t hedge it and say that he was only running as an independent for the Senate but retaining his GOP card as the governor. That would have been half-assed, and the Florida GOP wouldn’t have it, anyway. It may be a bold move in terms of screen time, but it doesn’t leave him much standing with the actual business of running the state, even as the Florida legislature grinds to a halt.

The reaction of the GOP has been vitriolic. I suppose that’s understandable, but actually, you’d think they’d be glad to be shed of him; he’s been too moderate for a lot of them. They’ve found themselves a new hot crush in Marco Rubio, so this move by Mr. Crist should make them at least relieved that they don’t have to be seen as the only GOP in the South with a leader who isn’t a far-right sound bite machine. Their response, though, to Mr. Crist’s somewhat self-serving “I didn’t abandon the party, the party abandoned me” indicates that they don’t mind being aligned with the teabaggers… unless someone else points it out to them. (PS: Start the countdown clock on the whisper campaign from the GOP about Mr. Crist and “family values.” Wink wink nudge nudge.)

So in less than a year the Florida Senate race has gone from a virtual shoo-in for Mr. Crist to a virtual tie between him, Mr. Rubio, and Kendrick Meek. At least the one thing you can count on now is that the votes will be counted very carefully.