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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.

20 Responses »

  1. Governor Crist decided to vacate the Governorship at a time it looked as though a Democrat would surely win the seat. He did so for his own personal gain and the promotion of his own career. Next he nearly hijacked the Republican Party of Florida and has created deep divides between long time friendships and embarassed the Party in the public eye. This subsequently caused unnecessary challenges when solidarity would've made recuperating from a losing election cycle much easier.

    Now the Governor vetos a bill that put many Republicans on the front lines of Conservatism, a bill he promised to sign if it made it to his desk. In my opinion this is not only treachery, but an indication that Mr Crist has a bigger dose of narcissism than he has of honor.

    This incident brings to mind the incident in New Yorks 23rd District. You remember Dede Scozzafava? Here was the party elites' choice: a choice that didn't satisfy the Republican voters. Instead of listening to the constituents, the New York GOP forced the decision, (lot of that happening in elitist circles- no difference between the "D"s and the "R"s on this issue). Now there is speculation that Mr. Crist will run as an Independent. I find that option to be a slap in the face to every Republican who's voted for, and supported Mr. Crist for the past 5-plus years.

    If Mr. Crist makes that decision, my understanding is every Republican Executive Committee member working on his team must, by their oath, cease their activites or resign their memberships from that body. My understanding also is we have recent REC "grevience" decisions establishing that fact.

    Mr. Crist has endosered televion commercials attacking the character of Chairman Rubio. In light of the current events, I personally find that the Governors actions repudiate any claim to that high moral ground. This ostensibly makes that moral tone to be nothing more than mud-slinging from a losing candidate. At this point in time, I find the Governor to be self-serving, and repugnant.

    I would much rather had the man wait to challenge Senator Bill Nelson. He could've won that election, but impatience and ambition has revealed itself in his character. The Governor as therefore lost my support, and more practically: the possibility for my vote. Go Rubio!

    • Well put, RabidElephant. If Crist does go down this path, he's going to have to build a new organization almost entirely from scratch. Not sure how many folks would be willing to resign from their local RECs to follow him.

  2. As I understand the law, the word 'Republican' can not be used by anyone other than members of the 'Republican Party'. As the Republican State Committeeman from Duval County, I will insist that the Republican Party of Florida take what ever recourse is available to stop anyone from inappropriate use of our name.

    I certainly hope that the Governor keeps his word and runs as a Republican. The Governor has benefited from his long association with the Republican Party.

    Elections are about choices. Republicans are not one huge monolithic group that votes as a block, but people that share our principals of smaller government and personal responsibility. Candidates running for office offer themselves to voters much as companies offer products for consumers. Primaries provide the opportunity for detailed scrutiny of candidates by party members.

    The Governor and Marco Rubio seem to take different approaches towards the general goal of smaller government and personal responsibility. Elections are about choices. I believe that Republican voters will choose the best candidate for America.

    • You make excellent points all around, Rick.

      As to the use of the word Republican - I'm no lawyer. I do know we already have an Independent Democrats of Florida party and in Alaska someone has created a 'Moderate Republican Party' and run candidates on that line. So my initial thinking is that it's legal, but there's absolutely something I could be missing.

  3. Charlie, you done shot your wad! You have already collected your thirty pieces of silver. Do not pass "go"! What an excuse for a governor!

    Independent Republican? Yeah, just a slight problem of identification. Why not run as the modern Judas, would make more sense.

  4. While teachers' unions may not play a huge part in the Republican primary, parents do. There were a huge number who really didn't want to see their kids put through more testing for the sole purpose of evaluating their teachers. Many parents are fed up with the focus on the FCAT as it is. In their eyes, Crist saved their kids from more high stakes testing. These Republicans may reward him with their vote.

    • Twenty-seven years teaching here. Retired before FCAT, but recall "Duval County Minimum Level Skills Tests" and efforts and time spent trying to get new transfers, goof-balls, and lower level students to pass at the expense of teaching the average and above average. At one point "The Florida Standards of Excellence" were put into place and were about the same thing as the "Minimum Level" stuff. (Possible conclusion: "Excellence is the Minimum?")
      Only real solution is to somehow group the students by ability level, actually lower class sizes, and remove the endless stream of often redundant, usually short-lived, and poorly constructed, paperwork, meetings, outside testing, and programs dumped in from the powers above.
      No intention of voting for Gov Charlie here, even if he finally did do one thing right. (Expect he probably did it for the wrong reasons.) Ah well......................

  5. Governor Charlie Test:
    A. He is who he is.
    B. He is who he thinks he is.
    C. He is who he says he will be.
    D. He is who he says he was or isn't.
    E. Either some, and/or neither all or one of the above.

  6. WE WOULD LIKE A RETRACTION, PLEASE! The Ecology Party was formed in 2007 by people who, tired of vital environmental issues receiving short shrift, and tired of a minor party kowtowing to the democrats, formed a party to put environmental issues first and to be truly independent. Due to his long and distinguished history as an environmentalist, we were honored when Ralph Nader accepted our ballot line. You linked to our page dealing with the election, but not to our home page where you would see we are still active and currently involved in an intervention at the NRC.

    Cara Campbell

    • Cara,

      With all due respect, it looks as though your party has never run a candidate for office other than placing Mr. Nader's name on the ballot for President. You are active and engaged in enviromental advocacy, but the whole purpose of a party is to elect candidates to public office.

      I stand by my characterization that the party was created primarily to give Nader a home on the ballot.

      The St. Pete Times spelled it out in a 2008 article: "Because it's a lot easier to be a minor party candidate in Florida than an independent candidate, Nader is the nominee of the Ecology Party, formed in 2007 by his supporters."

      • I absolutely agree that a party's raison d'etre is running candidates and perhaps someone reading this will contact us about running on our line. We have not run a candidate because we have quite stringent criteria which seem to bother potential candidates. We'd rather run no one than someone inappropriate. I certainly won't deny that our officers supported Mr.Nader, but we came into existence for the reasons I mentioned above. We were honored to have Mr. Nader accept our ballot line not only because of his distinguished record, but also because it was an effective way of getting the word out that there was a new party. The Times quote not say the EPF was formed for Nader just that it was easier for him to accept our ballot line.

  7. I hope Crist becomes and runs as an Independent; hat would certainly split the liberal, demorat vote in the general election

  8. Charlie, do us all a favor: pull out of the race and concentrate on your tan.

  9. The thought of a Crist run as an independent certainly is interesting, but a few things must first be consisdered.

    • 1) The Q Poll that shows Crist with an in the margin of error lead over Rubio sampled registered not likely voters. This early, the reliability of such type polling is wildly inconsistent.
      2) Independent runs in open seat scenarios always, poll better than they perform.
      3) Party switchers (which this would functionally be) create intense feelings among the base of the party they leave. This tends to lead to increased intensity against the party switcher from "Super Voters."

      Crist is done.

  10. Perhaps Crist just vetoed a bill that would have caused big backlash against the Republican Party. He excercised his right as a Republican Governor to Veto legislation.

    Maybe he just did his job. There have been some very poor policy decisions coming out of the Republican Legislature...decisions that are not all good for Florida's Future. Maybe its time for some veto ink to flow...checks and balances and differences of opinion are not acts of treason aginst the party. Education is important to Florida's future...and having some process on a major change may result in lasting changes.

    I can imagine Crist withdrawing with the table set for Le Mieux to win the Republican Primary. What is that theory...when everyone is slinging mud-just stand by and look electable?

    • But maybe he broke his word.

    • Had the same passing thunk about Le Mieux. You don't suppose........

      • It is an exit strategy with some dignity...I am not following Le Mieux closely...but he seems to be steady at the helm.

        We will know soon enough...April 30 is it?

      • "....seems to be......" to me too, but one must remember that Le Mieux was Gov Charlie's right hand man and more than likely associated with many of his somewhat less than wise decisions.