Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coy Crist

If Gov. Charlie Crist is going to bolt the GOP and run as an independent for the Senate in Florida, he’s not talking.

Everywhere he goes, Crist faces the independent candidacy question, and while stalwart Republican supporters across Florida are holding their breath, the governor seems in no rush to put it to rest.

”I’m not thinking about that today,” Crist told inquiring reporters Friday at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami, a day after vetoing a contentious teacher tenure bill in Tallahassee.

”We’ll look at that later on,” Crist said.

Trailing Republican rival Rubio by an average of more than 20 points even after weeks of anti-Rubio TV ads, Crist has to answer some important questions: Is running as a no-party affiliation candidate his only chance at winning? Would his entire campaign team quit? Would most or all of his longtime Republican supporters and money-raisers abandon him?

And he will keep them guessing up to the last minute — he has until April 30th — for one very obvious reason: it keeps the attention on him and off Marco Rubio, who captured all the headlines and the attention as the darling of the far-right wing. As long as the media and the pundits are talking about whether or not Mr. Crist will go independent, it’s good for him, at least in terms of changing the focus of the race. It’s no longer about the skyrocketing Rubio but about how the far-right has taken over the Florida GOP and how moderates are being shoved out of the party.

My guess is that Mr. Crist has already made up his mind to run as an independent and he made that decision a while ago. If he’s a politician worth his weight in hairspray, he knew the outcome of the poll showing he’d do well in a three-way race against Mr. Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek, and he’s probably testing campaign slogans along the lines of “Charlie Crist doesn’t owe his allegiance to a party — just to you,” or something just as pithy.

I’m also sure that he used his decision to veto SB 6, the teacher pay bill, to gauge the reaction to his independent streak. It’s too bad that he used it as a political tool, making the state of public education in Florida just a part of his campaign, but in it’s not really a surprise, either.