Beth Reinhard of the Miami Herald looks at what the Senate race will be like when Gov. Charlie Crist announces that he’ll run as an independent tomorrow.
Crist’s nonpartisan bid would allow him to forego an anticipated thrashing by former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP primary and pave the way for a potentially competitive three-way contest against Rubio as the likely GOP nominee and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami as the likely Democrat. That means Florida’s next senator could be elected Nov. 2 with as little as 34 percent of the vote, upending the usual quest for mass appeal in an increasingly diverse state of 11 million voters.
”In a tight, three-way race, there’s a bigger premium on making sure you are targeting your supporters and getting them to polls, as opposed to persuading voters,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown, whose recent survey found Crist slightly ahead of the pack if he ran as an independent and Rubio in second place. ”When you don’t need a majority, when a plurality is what matters, there’s a smaller target.”
That also means that the race will be geared towards the base of the parties; Mr. Rubio will be free to appeal to the hard-right Republicans and Tea Party crowd, expend most of his energy on attacking Mr. Crist, and basically ignore Mr. Meek. After all, Mr. Rubio doesn’t stand much of a chance of winning a lot of Democratic voters.
Mr. Crist will make his appeal to the moderate and independents who are nominally Republicans but are turned off by the nutsery, and he might even use the Obama hug as his foot in the door to Democrats who aren’t sure of Mr. Meek. So you can expect to see Mr. Rubio going after Mr. Crist, which is just fine with the governor; he’ll be considered the voice of sanity as the Tea Party cult takes on more and more weirdness as November approaches. After all, they’re torpedoing the chances of Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah, who isn’t conservative enough, and giving John McCain a run for his money by pushing the candidacy of birther J.D. Hayworth in Arizona. So tomorrow, when Gov. Crist announces his decision to run as an independent, you’re going to hear him proclaim that he’s the only one in the race who can appeal to all of Florida. He will also be the topic of discussion on all the national chat shows this weekend with the greybeards and the chin-strokers wondering what this means for the future of the GOP. (And surely there will be someone who will say that this is bad news for President Obama).
The duty then falls to Mr. Meek to get some attention as a real contender in the race, which will be tough since he’ll be mentioned as an afterthought in all of the coverage of the battle between Mr. Rubio and Mr. Crist. It would be nice if the election was a choice of voting for someone as opposed to “I’m not the other guy.”