At a time when most of the American people have lost all faith in our politicians, a time when it has never been more clear that it’s not about whats best for America, along comes Charlie Crist to remove all doubt.
Placing his political career above all else, he will alter the Florida Senate race today in a major way. If you’ve been wondering who the so called ‘moderates’ are in the Republican Party, well, look no further than those who will continue to support Crist.
For those who have been engaged for well over a year to bring sanity and common sense back to our government, to put the will of the people first, you now have a new opponent in that battle. – Tom Tillison
By Alexander Bolton and Sean J. Miller
Crist is set to announce Thursday afternoon that he will run for Florida’s Senate seat as an Independent, according to multiple media reports.
The move would allow Crist to avoid what was predicted to be a humiliating defeat at the hands of former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP primary. But it will cost him the support of his party’s infrastructure, and possibly that of his staff and consultants.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said Wednesday that his organization will do everything it can to help the conservative Rubio beat Crist.
Cornyn said Crist had not yet informed him of his decision to run as an Independent, but “that appears the direction it’s headed.”
“We don’t support anybody but Republicans in the committee,” Cornyn said of the NRSC. “We will be supporting the Republican and doing everything we can to win.”
It’s a long fall for Crist and the Republican leaders, who were initially enthusiastic about his Senate run. The national party endorsed him early in the process in order to avoid spending money in a costly Senate race. Crist led in the polls, raised a ton of money and was on track to be crowned the Republican nominee.
But as Rubio, a favorite of the Tea Party movement, gained traction in the polls and started bringing in the money, the national party began to shift its support.
With Crist’s expected announcement, the NRSC will try to lure away the GOP campaign staffers hired by Crist.
Additionally, Crist’s fundraising base would shrink and he would likely be pressured to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.
Crist raised $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2010, compared to Rubio’s $3.6 million. But Crist maintained a $7.6 million-to-$3.9 million cash-on-hand advantage.
The governor’s top consultants could also jump ship. A prominent Republican pollster had no comment Tuesday when asked by The Hill if his firm planned to continue working with Crist on an Independent run.
Crist will make his announcement formally on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET at Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg. The three-way race would pit Crist and Rubio against Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.). The winner could be elected with as little as 34 percent of the vote.
A Quinnipiac poll, taken a few weeks ago, found Crist had a slight lead if he ran as an Independent: 32 percent would vote for Crist, 30 percent for Rubio and 24 percent for Meek.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who endorsed Crist in May of last year, has said in several interviews that Crist “would lose all Republican support if he were to run as an Independent.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told The Hill recently that he would not endorse Crist in an Independent bid.
McCain has backed Crist, who helped him win Florida in the 2008 presidential GOP primary, but made it clear that his endorsement will not stand if Crist is not the Republican candidate.
Asked if he would support Crist as an Independent, McCain replied, “No. I support Republicans.”
Several other prominent Republicans have endorsed Rubio, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said in a statement that “voters deserve better than calculating politicians who put career survival ahead of advancing ideas and principles they believe in.”
He added, “There’s really no choice Charlie Crist will make tomorrow that will ever mask his support for a reckless agenda of the failed Crist-Meek-Obama stimulus, higher taxes and soaring debt.”
Meek has said he likes his chances in a three-way race.
“The governor makes a decision that he’s going to run as an Independent — automatically, I become a factor in this race,” the four-term congressman told CNN’s John King in a recent interview. “There will no longer be debates with just the two of them. I would be invited as another major candidate in the race.”
Rubio’s profile has risen as he became a favorite of the conservative movement. He was profiled in a New York Times piece with the headline “The First Senator From the Tea Party?” And when he addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, he received a hero’s welcome.
He’s not the first candidate to benefit from Tea Party support. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) held off a primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) with the support of conservatives. Last October, third-party New York congressional candidate Doug Hoffman drew on his Tea Party backing to force the Republican candidate from the race (Hoffman lost the general election).
And Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) is facing a tough primary challenge because of conservative anger. Utah features an unusual nominating process in which a multi-ballot convention process whittles the race down to two candidates. If, at any point, a candidate gets 60 percent of the vote, he or she wins the nomination outright. A Salt Lake Tribune poll taken this week had Bennett running third among delegates. The convention is May 8.
Aaron Blake and Emily Goodin contributed to this article.
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