Crist must decide if he will abandon or stay with GOP this week as clouds form over Marco Rubio

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Charlie’s dilemma

Florida Governor Charlie Crist must decide his political future by Friday, April 30, the deadline for when he has to file as an Independent candidate in the Florida U.S. Senate race. The one-time GOP primary frontrunner’s fortunes have changed dramatically in the last year as he lost a commanding lead in the polls over former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio. Crist is now in the unenviable position of remaining loyal to a party that has seemingly spurned him or try his chances at an Independent candidacy.

The Miami Herald reports:

“Charlie Crist, once Florida’s spectacularly popular governor, now in danger of seeing his political career washed up?

‘I honestly don’t know,’ Crist said Friday. ‘But I certainly think the economy played a role.’

In hindsight, the warning signs were too numerous: Marco Rubio winning local ‘straw poll’ U.S. Senate elections that Crist brushed off as meaningless; prominent GOP allies publicly scolding him for endorsing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package; veteran party leaders beseeching him to remove or at least rein in his hand-picked Florida GOP chairman, Jim Greer.

‘He’s deader than the day before yesterday. I don’t think there’s any way in the world he can rehabilitate himself,’ former state GOP chairman Tom Slade said.

Crist’s once stratospheric approval ratings have dropped below 50 percent. A 30-point lead over Rubio in the Republican U.S. Senate primary race has turned into a 23-point deficit.

Slade says Crist’s only hope at political viability is to win the Senate seat by running without party affiliation. The chances of success, he predicted, are ‘slim to none.'”

In addition, Crist has lately antagonized Florida Republicans with his veto of a landmark bill that tied teacher pay to student performance, a decision that led to former Sen. Connie Mack withdrawing as the chair of Crist’s Senate campaign.

If Crist did decide to go Independent and lost his remaining GOP base, it’s not all bad news. A Quinnipiac poll conducted before April 15 had the former political superstar winning a three way race with thirty-two percent of the vote.  Marco Rubio garnered thirty percent and Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meeks took twenty-five percent.  The poll indicates that Crist remains far more popular with the general electorate than Republicans, among whom he trails Rubio by a whopping fifty-six  to thirty-three percent.

Clouds over Rubio

Crist may find his decision to run as an Independent complicated by recent revelations that Marco Rubio is now under federal investigation. Internal Florida GOP documents  show that Rubio may have included improper charges on GOP credit cards, including haircuts and grocery trips that Rubio tried to brush off as a manufactured controversy.  The Internal Revenue Service wasn’t as nonchalant about the potential improprieties and has started an investigation into the spending habits of multiple current and former figures in the state party.

The Associated Press reports:

“Republicans see the potential for significant gains in this fall’s congressional elections, with a legitimate shot of regaining control of the House and perhaps the Senate. But a family feud in Florida combined with questionable spending habits could thwart their political gains.

Questions have arisen about fundraising for and spending from two political committees Rubio formed as House speaker to benefit House candidates. The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times reported that little of the money raised went to candidates and some of it benefited Rubio’s relatives.

Much of the attention has focused on credit cards issued to Rubio and 27 other Republican leaders. The Internal Revenue Service is looking into the spending by Rubio and others Republican leaders, including a former state party chairman, Jim Greer, hand-picked by Crist.

Rubio charged nearly $110,000 to the party-issued card during his time as House speaker. Among the charged items were repairs to Rubio’s family minivan, grocery bills, plane tickets for his wife, and retail purchases, including one from a wine store.

Campaign aides have said the charges were legitimate; for instance, they said, the minivan had been damaged while being used on GOP business. They also said Rubio paid American Express $16,052.50 to cover nonparty expenses when they happened.

But Rubio recently sent the party a $2,417.80 check as reimbursement for personal airline flights he said were mistakenly charged to the GOP credit card. Rubio blamed the expense on an accounting error.”