TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Florida Governor Charlie Crist, fighting for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, stirred more speculation he may leave the party and run as an independent when he vetoed a contentious Republican measure on Thursday.
The outcome of the Florida political battle is being watched closely for its impact on the November congressional elections, in which Republicans hope to cut, and possibly overturn, Democratic majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.
Crist, whose veto distanced him from his party's conservative wing, has repeatedly denied he may run as an independent in the August 24 primary election to decide the party's Senate candidate.
Crist vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature to eliminate traditional teacher tenure, saying the measure went too far in taking away teacher protections that constituents overwhelmingly wanted to keep. The bill also would have linked teachers' pay to improvements in student test scores.
Crist trails in opinion polls to Marco Rubio, a former House Speaker from Miami who has become the darling of the Republican Party's conservative wing.
He further distanced himself from Rubio on Thursday by siding with teachers and some of the state's largest unions, the Florida Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
A Quinnipiac Poll released hours before the veto showed Crist losing to Rubio by 23 points if the Republican primary were held now. If Crist ran as an independent, the poll found he would win a three-way race with 32 percent of the vote, compared with Rubio's 30 percent and Democratic front-runner Kendrick Meek's 24 percent.
"I veto Senate Bill 6 because this bill is contrary to my firmly held principle to act in the best interests of the people of Florida," Crist told reporters. "I'm confident my decision today is the right one."
Crist told reporters the measure was inflexible and too hastily crafted without proper input from teachers, parents, superintendents and school boards and had damaged the morale of teachers, parents and students.
The bill has been one of the legislative session's most controversial, but Republican legislative leaders were unlikely to bring the issue back before the session ends in two weeks.
"We are disappointed, but not discouraged," House Speaker Larry Cretul said in a statement. "This bill and the many hours of hard work and debate that went into it represent a heroic commitment to take education reform in Florida to the next level."
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