Florida Gov. Charlie Crist didn't want to talk much Wednesday about a report that he may run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, rather than continue his bid to win the Republican nomination in the race.
The first-term governor, who has been sliding fast in polls among GOP voters, appeared to waffle on an earlier statement that he would keep running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican.
"I'm really not thinking about the other," Crist said, referring to a difficult Senate primary race against former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a conservative Republican from West Miami who is a rising star nationally. "You all may find this hard to believe but I'm fairly consumed with this (legislative issues)."
But Crist didn't refute a Wednesday report in The Wall Street Journal, which quoted his campaign manager saying that the governor would qualify for the Senate race, but not necessarily as a Republican.
Later Wednesday, Crist failed to slam the door on speculation by saying he wouldn't rule out surrenduring his Republican affiliation to continue his Senate bid as an independent.
Crist has until the end of the month make his decision. "So I've been informed," Crist chuckled at an evening reception.
Just last week, Crist's Senate campaign said the governor had no intention of running as an independent.
"As we have said countless times before, Gov. Crist is running for the United States Senate as a Republican," campaign manager Erik Eikenberg said April 8. "He will not run as an independent or as a no party affiliation."
Rubio's campaign did not return a call for comment.
In recent months, Crist's political fortunes have "dropped like a rock," a term he'd used frequently in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign to promote his tax cutting agenda. Less than two years ago, he was among a group of Republicans vetted as a possible running mate for U.S. Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.
Virtually every poll taken in recent months shows Crist falling further behind Rubio in the Republican race while his early fundraising edge slips away as well. But Crist's popularity among some moderate Democrats could benefit him in a three-way contest in November.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut won re-election in 2006 after losing in that state's Democratic primary. Florida law, however, would prevent the silver-haired, deeply tanned Crist from getting on the November ballot if he loses in the August primary.
A moderate governor nearly as popular with Democrats as those in his own party, Crist infuriated many on the right wing of the Florida GOP when he embraced President Obama on a trip to the state in early 2009 and then accepted stimulus dollars from the Obama administration. Rubio has hammered away at Crist's connection with the new president during his campaign.
Crist has also been at odds with his own party over some significant legislation, including one bill that would make it easier to fire teachers and tie their pay to classroom performance. The governor has until Friday to decide whether to veto it — a move that could enhance his standing with Democrats and many independents.
A veto would also drive many conservative Republicans further away from Crist, who spent part of his morning Wednesday monitoring a Senate committee vote to confirm two of his appointments to the Public Service Commission. One of his agency heads had failed to win Senate confirmation Tuesday.
The education bill (SB 6) has been the gorilla in the living room since its stealth passage nearly a week ago. It's a priority for Republican legislative leaders and also former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose governing priorities have surfaced prominently in Capitol hallways all session.
Crist said the measure has merit, but he has been lobbied fiercely by the Florida Education Association and others, including some close friends and family members, to veto it.
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