You’re An Independent Candidate, Charlie Crist

Howard Fineman at Newsweek:

Is there a middle in American politics? Charlie Crist’s decision to run as an independent will test that proposition in the ultimate testing ground of American politics: the I-4 corridor in Central Florida. The Congress Crist is seeking to enter is more divided along partisan lines than at least a century. In the states, the parties (especially the Republicans) are being pulled in opposite directions by grassroots anger and ideology. Even President Obama—who ran on a theme of unity, colorblindness, and a new harmony in Washington—is talking in partisan, pointillist terms about rallying his base (and not much else) this fall.

The consensus among people I talked to in Florida is that Crist had NO hope of winning the GOP primary against conservative tyro Marco Rubio. “This is the only way Crist has any kind of shot,” said Mitch Ceasar, a lawyer and well-connected Democratic activist in Palm Beach County.

It’s clear that Crist, while nominally a Republican, has prospered in recent weeks by moves designed to appeal to Democrats and independents. The chief one, of course, was his veto of an education bill that teachers in Florida saw as anathema. “That veto was tantamount to announcing his third-way candidacy,” Ceaser said. It paid off. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Crist’s job-approval rating has jumped 11 points in the last month, and now stands at 56 percent—a positive number that is the envy of most other politicians in the time of virulent anti-incumbency.

David Frum at FrumForum:

Thank God for Kendrick Meek is all I can say. If the Dems had recruited a top-tier candidate in Florida, the Crist-Rubio revenge drama would have already thrown away a Senate seat that ought to be an easy Republican hold. As is, things will be difficult enough.

The Crist-Rubio contest is a tough one for modern-minded Republicans. As Eli Lehrer has noted here, Crist is no paragon of good government. On the other hand, what has got Crist in trouble is not his beach-house bailout, but his willingness to cut a deal with the feds to rescue his state finances – kind of a governor’s job. It’s unnerving too that it is so hard to predict how Crist would behave as a U.S. senator. With Rubio, you have a more certain idea of what you’ll get.

But here’s where I come down: The center right has got to hold together. We cannot afford more NY-23s. In all but the most extreme circumstances, the rule has to be that those who participate in a party contest abide by the results of that process. It’s one thing if the race is Lieberman v. Lamont, and what’s at issue is success or failure in war. I used that comparison in a tweet today, but it does not stand up to scrutiny: the differences between Crist and Rubio are much more differences in tone, temperament, and personality. Had Crist prevailed in the Florida Republican primary, he would have had every valid reason to expect Rubio to support the outcome. The reverse should have held true.

Marc Ambinder:

Charlie Crist, soon to be independent Senate candidate from Florida, tried to reach White House chief of staff Emanuel through intermediates. WH refuses to take the call. Dems plan big talent/money blitz for Kendrick Meek. BTW: Obama’s approval rating in FL is in high 40s, per internal Dem polling.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

What’s Crist up to? Might he be interested in cutting a deal to caucus with the Democrats if they chase Meek from the field?

Who knows? But the most plausible path to victory for Crist is if Meek backs him. That’s a real possibility, I think, later in the game if Rubio and Crist are each getting about 40% in the polls and Meek is getting about 20%. But, as voters get to know the lesser-known Rubio and Meek, it’s probably more likely they emerge as the frontrunners and Crist fades as election day approaches.

And then does Crist throw his support to Meek in hopes of getting a nice ambassadorship? Again, who knows? In a three-way race things could get a little crazy (maybe starting with the speculation about how crazy things could get).

Ed Morrissey:

We should make clear that a Democratic White House really has no business supporting an independent against a credible Democratic candidate, so this isn’t a knock on Rahm.  Had he decided to pick up the phone and offer Crist help, that would have all but ended Meek’s bid, with little hope of success for Crist to overtake Marco Rubio in a general election anyway.  Rahm’s smart enough to know when to let the phone keep ringing.

However, this demonstrates the desperation and the naiveté of Crist and his team (assuming, of course, that Ambinder got this right).  Did they really expect to get a friendly ear from Obama’s team?  Obama used Crist to get what he wanted — but Crist was using Obama, too.  Obama had just won Florida for Democrats for the first time in a few presidential cycles, and Crist wanted to climb aboard Obama’s bandwagon.  That’s one of the reasons why Crist finds himself over twenty points behind Rubio now.

That also shows how desperate Crist has become.  It was Crist’s embrace of Obama that torpedoed his bid for the GOP nomination.  The hair of the dog is about the last remedy anyone with any sense would prescribe, but it may be all Crist has left when his donors abandon him and the center sticks with Rubio.

More Ambinder:

Put yourself in the mind of Marco Rubio. You want to paint Crist and Meek as two peas in an Obama pod. But Obama isn’t unpopular in Florida. So Meek takes the challenge: you bet I’m an Obama Democrat, he says. If Meek gets 80 to 85% of the Democratic vote, that’s about 40% of the electorate — a floor of about 30-32% of the overall vote.

The independent vote will be fairly small — half of it is worth about 10 points of the statewide vote. As Steve Schale, Obama’s campaign manager in Florida put it, “Even on its best day in November, NPA and minor party voters will probably only make up 18% of the electorate, so even if Crist gets 50% of the vote, he only nets 9 points of total statewide vote.”

At the same time, if Meek swings too far to the left, he collects very few independents, and can’t build on his base. If Rubio swings too far to the right, he gets stuck in the low thirties. Crist could win by pulling 15-20% of Democrats and Republicans from Meek and Rubio and 75% of independents.

So — the math has changed the political strategy. Meek and Rubio will be working to keep as many moderate independent leaners in their coalition as possible while keeping their bases enthusiastic. Crist will build on his geographic strength: St. Pete/Tampa, his popularity with African Americans and Jewish voters, the possibility that Puerto Rican-Americans don’t cotton to Rubio, and can begin to peel away voters.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Poll data suggest that Crist could be competitive in a three-way race as an independent. I’m skeptical, but let’s not take any chances. This kind of disloyalty to the Republican Party can’t be rewarded. And if he wins this Senate race, Rubio should be a leader of the conservative movement for many years to come. Go here or here to donate to Rubio’s campaign.

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