What can Charlie Crist do to win as an Independent?

Mike Riggs Contributor

Citing anonymous sources within the Florida GOP, Hot Line On Call is reporting that Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist is this close to running as an independent for the U.S. Senate. Marco Rubio is whupping him in the polls, and the NRSC has stated that while it originally backed Crist, it is now pushing for Crist to drop out. Former Sen. Connie Mack recently resigned over Crist’s decision to veto a GOP-passed merit-based pay bill for public school teachers, and NRSC chair John Cornyn “called Crist on Friday, intending to make it clear that Crist should drop out if he doesn’t believe he can win a party primary.” Today during a speech support Rubio, Mitt Romney advised Crist to “either stay in the U.S. Senate race as a Republican or step aside and support his opponent.”

Last week, Quinnipiac released a poll that had an independent Crist beating both Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek. While his career with the GOP would be over (Cornyn’s words, but most people would likely agree), Crist would hold even more power as an independent senator than as a Republican. Caucusing with the Dems might make him a one-term senator, but six years is more than enough time to secure a better gig for himself.

Depending on November’s returns, Crist could end up being a fulcrum on which Democratic control rests. Sure, it’s unlikely, but if it happens, Crist could finagle a committee chairmanship out of the switch, just as Vermont’s Jim Jeffords did in 2001 when his decision to leave the GOP gave Democrats a two-year majority, from 2001-2003 (Boxer is in danger and Crist is an environmentalist–why not EPW?). If it doesn’t happen, Crist can caucus with the Republicans without losing sleep over what he missed by not going blue.

Red State claims Crist is dropping out altogether, and points to an email from Rob Jesmer in which the NRSC executive director writes, “If any of you have influence with Governor Crist, we hope you will call his campaign and encourage him to do the right thing” and drop out of the race.

Crist is maintaining radio silence, and this could all be a lot of hullabaloo for naught. But in case Crist does run as an independent, instead of say, waiting until 2012 to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, The Daily Caller’s resident Florida politics expert Pat McMahon and I came up with a list of what Crist could do as governor to court moderates and independents over the course of his campaign.

1.) Power of the press: Crist can, and will, use his power as governor to hold press conferences defending decision that have a direct impact on November (see numbers 2 and 3).

2.) Vetos: The merit-pay bill is proof not only that Crist will use his veto power to thwart the GOP, but also that he’ll gleefully play his decision to moderates. After taking a ton of heat from Republicans–including the loss of Mack–Crist stumped in support of his decision at a teacher’s rally in Tallahassee. From the St. Pete Times:

“Charlie Crist’s stump speech transformed Saturday into a full-throated defense of his veto of Senate Bill 6, as teachers in this GOP bedrock rallied and vowed to ‘remember in November.’ The Republican U.S. Senate candidate, wearing Levis and a golf shirt, took the microphone and gave a detailed explanation of how he went from supporter of the controversial bill to the state’s most popular opponent. Crist attacked the GOP leadership for taking an extreme approach and not listening to the public. ‘We got calls in our office,’ Crist said, ‘that not only were arms being twisted, they were being broken … to convince them to vote for this thing.’ He added later: ‘You have to kind of scratch your head and think: Who is running the asylum?’ At least six people changed their registration to allow them to vote for Crist in his primary contest. Sharon Jones, 58, a high school science teacher in Jacksonville, said she ‘never thought in my wildest dreams, if I was dead I’d roll over in my grave,’ that she would become a Republican. But ‘I think Crist earned my vote,’ she said.”

3.) He is the head of the Florida National Guard: Jeb Bush’s deft handling of Hurricanes Francis and Charlie in 2004 helped shore up his reputation as a competent governor, just as Pres. George W. Bush’s disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina continues to solidify his reputation as a domestic nincompoop. Florida hasn’t had a bad hurricane season since 2004, but if it had one this year, and Crist handled it well, the quick dispatch of fallen trees, downed power lines, and flooding would be fresh on voters’ minds in November.

4.) Appointments: In January 2007, Crist recalled 287 of Jeb Bush’s appointments, despite the fact that they were members of the same party. That’s more than twice as many as Dem. Governor Lawton Chiles, who only recalled 117 of his Republican predecessor’s appointments, and almost as many Bush, who recalled 340 of Chiles’ appointments. In 2009, he was censured by local Republican parties for appointing Democrats to county boards, which means he’s perfectly used to, and probably fine with, appointing Democrats:

In a move sure to strike fear in the hearts of the current regime in charge of the Republican Party of Florida, the Volusia County Republican Executive Committee passed a motion by voice vote Saturday morning censuring Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

The Volusia motion ends with a wink and a nod to the Republican Party of Palm Beach County’s own battle over censuring Crist. In what might be perceived as a plea for solidarity from Palm Beach County REC members, the resolution says: “Governor Crist’s appointment of Democrats to boards is not limited to Volusia County. He also appointed Democrat Pricilla Taylor to the Palm Beach Board of County Commissioners; and he appointed Democrat Carrie Hill to the Palm Beach County School Board.”

Crist’s biggest obstacle, if he’s to make nice with people to the left of him, will be walking back his positions on social issues. After getting elected partially because of his social liberalism, Crist turned around and endorsed Amendment 2, a referendum banning gay marriage.

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