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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Charlie Crist Switch and Survive?

One of the more interesting ongoing spectacles this year has been the crashing and burning of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the once invincible political titan who now appears destined to lose, perhaps badly, a U.S. Senate primary to conservative Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio. Initially, Rubio was considered more or less a nuisance candidate who would keep Crist from straying too far off the conservative reservation. Now, according to a new PPP poll of Florida Republicans, Rubio is trouncing Crist 60-28.
Echoing earlier complaints among Florida Republicans that Crist should have just run for re-election, there’s been talk that the heavily tanned incumbent might switch to the governor’s race (qualifying doesn’t end until April 30). Others have suggested he should get some revenge on conservatives by staying in the Senate race but running as an independent. At 538.com today, Nate Silver explores these alternatives, and concludes that Crist should probably either hang it up or run for the Senate as an indie, assuming he’s not interested in a future in the GOP. Turns out switching to the governor’s race isn’t promising:

The same PPP poll that found Crist trailing Rubio by 32 points also found him trailing Bill McCollum, the leading Republican candidate for governor, by 14. That’s not quite as bad a deficit to overcome, but it doesn’t account for the additional annoyance voters might feel if Crist switched races, which could come across as entitled and presumptuous. In addition, the general election could get tricky, as Crist’s approval ratings are tepid and as Democratic candidate Alex Sink — although now trailing McCollum in most polls — is considered a decent candidate.

On the other hand, says Nate, some polls have shown Crist running reasonably well as an indie against Rubio and likely Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, essentially creating a three-way tie.
Either “switch” by Crist, it’s clear, would be good news for Florida Democrats, giving them a better chance in November while promoting GOP ideological warfare.
But Charlie probably owns it to his dwindling band of friends in the GOP to make up his mind soon. In neighboring Georgia, the news that U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Gov. Sonny Perdue are hosting an Atlanta fundraiser for Crist has not gone over very well in Georgia Republican circles. If Crist is perceived as double-crossing Florida Republicans, he will become truly radioactive for all who have touched him.

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