Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to take his high approval ratings and moderate image into the contest to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Mel Martinez has been greeted with excitement and relief by Beltway Republicans, who feel they now have one less vulnerable seat to worry about next year (though Crist’s conservative primary opponent, former FL House Speaker Marco Rubio, is resisting this pro-Crist tide).
But totally aside from Crist’s irritating habit of defying conservative talking points now and then (most notably in supporting President Obama’s economic stimulus package), his decision could prove to be a headache for Florida Republicans, threatening the grip on the Governor’s Office that they have held since 1998.
Don’t take our word for it; take conservative activist Patrick Ruffini’s:
[W]ith Crist out of state politics, it’s open season on the Florida Governor’s mansion. And holding on there is far from a sure thing, with old warhorse Bill McCullom the likely GOP nominee going up against much buzzed about Dem CFO Alex Sink.
We might say that the Governorship of Florida is not Washington’s problem — except this is the same sort of short-term DC-centered thinking that gives us establishment favorites inimical to the grassroots. The GOP’s revival will not come from Washington or from the Senate. It will come from the states. From an overarching party balance sheet perspective, we need to evaluate the potential loss of the Florida statehouse before stating whether Crist’s move is a good thing.
Ruffini could have added that a Democratic victory in the governor’s race could break GOP control of the decennial redistricting process. Florida was thoroughly gerrymandered on partisan lines during the last redistricting cycle, and a more evenhanded map could produce siginificant Democratic gains in both the U.S. House and in the state legislature, for years to come.