Charlie’s Best Chance: Become an ‘Independent Republican’
Charlie Crist made a difficult decision earlier today when he vetoed Senate Bill 6, the Republican-backed measure that would have tied student performance to teacher pay.
The driving force behind the bill was State Senator John Trasher, who serves double-duty as Chairman of the Florida GOP. The veto puts Crist directly at odds with many of his fellow Republicans and has already caused a number of high-profile elected officials to pull their endorsements of his Senate candidacy.
In just about two weeks Crist will face another, even more difficult decision. That's because April 30th is the deadline for candidates to officially qualify to run for Federal offices.
Crist, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Mel Martinez, has been running for a year as a Republican. During that time he's seen his fortunes change dramatically -- starting out with an astronomical lead over little known challenger Marco Rubio, only to watch it all slip away. Now lagging by about 25% in most Republican primary polls, Crist needed to do something to change the game. And he has, sort of. His veto of SB6 will win him a lot of support from the teachers and their unions.
Unfortunately for Crist, teachers unions are not normally considered a major force in Republican primaries.
Much has been made over the past few months about the possibility that the Governor might "go rogue" and instead run for the Senate without a party, allowing him to skip the primary with Rubio and advance straight to the general election.
A Quinnipiac poll released today shows that if the governor ran as an independent, he would win 32 percent to Rubio’s 30 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek’s 24 percent.
Crist’s campaign has flatly denied that he would leave the Republican Party as recently as early April. He seemed very clear on the subject when pressured for an answer during a nationally-televised Fox News debate last month in which he was widely quoted as having put the rumors to rest. “I’m running as a Republican,” the governor told debate-moderator Chris Wallace.
Going back on his word would give the Rubio campaign one more clip to be used in a negative ad highlighting Crist's history of changing his mind on issues.
But maybe the governor can do both. Maybe he can "run as a Republican" and still by-pass the Republican primary in August.
If Crist intends to continue his campaign outside of the primary, his best strategy now would be to file the paperwork needed to create an entity called the Independent Republican Party. Doing so would allow him to continue to campaign with the Republican label, letting him put "Independent Republican" on every yard sign, bumper sticker and piece of direct mail that his campaign circulates.
While I am no expert on the election laws involved, from what I understand the task of establishing a new political party in Florida is a relatively simple one. We currently have an assortment of minor parties that range from the serious to the silly. Beyond the well-known staples like the Libertarians and the Greens, Florida boasts several dozen registered political parties. Among them are the Florida Whig Party, the Real Food Party, the Surfers Party and the Twelve Visions Party. One recent example of a party created specifically for a single candidate is the Ecology Party, setup by supporters of Ralph Nader in 2007 as a platform for him to get on the ballot here in Florida.
Heck, we even have a party that calls itself the Independent Democrats of Florida, though it's not a particularly active bunch. Even still, more than 350 voters in Duval County have registered themselves as Independent Democrats.
Campaigning as an Independent Republican could create a very favorable electoral dynamic for Crist. Depending on how the deck shuffles and how the poll numbers look come August, the governor would have the choice of campaigning for Republican votes from those worried Rubio might not be able to defeat Kendrick Meek. Or, if the situation is flipped, he could lobby for the backing of Democratic voters who feel he's their best shot at stopping Marco Rubio's meteoric rise.
If it comes down to the wire against Rubio, Crist can stress that he'll "be his own man" in Washington. If it looks like Meek is his leading rival, Crist can swing a little to the right and swear on a Bible that he'll caucus with the Republicans if he's elected.
There's another benefit for Crist -- cash. Switching would allow him to gain immediate access to funds raised specifically for the general election. That's money he wouldn't be able to touch if he stays in the Republican primary fight against Rubio.
And then there's ego.
With the August Republican primary approaching rapidly, the governor must be thinking about September.
What happens after? What if Marco cleans his clock?
Anyone who has run for high political office such as Governor or U.S. Senate, and who even imagined himself as Presidential material, has to have a healthy ego. It's just a fact of the situation. An embarrassing loss to Marco Rubio on August 24th would leave Crist with more than four months left in office as a lame duck Governor.
He would be forced to suffer the indignity of having to fold his hands in his lap and stump for Rubio during the general election.
Skipping the primary changes things entirely. It guarantees him a shot at the big game, all or or nothing in November.
Charlie's best chance, perhaps his only chance, is to become an Independent Republican.
NOTE: This editorial should not be taken as an endorsement of Charlie Crist for Senate, it is merely a political evaluation of the situation that Crist now faces following his veto of Senate Bill 6.