Rubio’s camp on third party bid from Crist: Bring it on

Gautham Nagesh Contributor
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Marco Rubio’s campaign has a response to recent reports that Governor Charlie Crist is considering mounting a third-party campaign for Senate: Bring it on.

Polls show that Rubio has increased his lead over Crist in the months leading up to the Republican primary, and he has picked up high-profile endorsements from prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani along the way. Crist, once considered the front-runner in the race, has become increasingly unpopular among Republicans, and many suspect he will soon leave the party and run as an Independent.

The rumors were bolstered by Crist’s veto this week of a Republican-backed education bill that included merit pay for teachers. Following the veto, Crist said he would examine the possibility of running as an independent “later on” but then insisted he is not considering it. Crist’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Those mixed signals have not stopped pundits from assessing what a possible defection would mean for the race. A recent poll from Quinnipac shows that Crist would be neck-and-neck with Rubio and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek in a three-way race. However, insiders dismissed that poll, arguing that Crist’s support would evaporate once the two major parties officially threw their support behind Rubio and Meek.

Rubio spokesman Joe Pounder said that a third-party run from Crist would only prove that he isn’t a true conservative.

“That would only confirm what everyone knows about Charlie Crist, that he will do or say anything to win an election,” Pounder said. “Instead of facing one opponent who supported Obama’s stimulus program, cap and trade, and putting more debt on the backs of future generations, we’ll be facing two candidates that believe that.”

Pounder said Meek and Crist “believe in the exact same things,” such as raising higher taxes, nominating liberal judges and “the wasteful stimulus that hasn’t created any jobs in Florida.” Recovery.gov,  Web site set up by the Obama administration, claims the stimulus bill has created almost 35,000 jobs in Florida.

“The bottom line is this won’t change much from our perspective. It will only confirm Crist and Meek are very much alike.”

While Pounder repeatedly stressed that Rubio’s camp isn’t worried about a third-party challenge from Crist, there remains the real possibility that his candidacy could siphon enough moderate votes from Rubio to deliver the election to Meek. Polls show Meek would face very long odds in a one-on-one matchup with either candidate.

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