Analysts and pundits across the political spectrum blasted Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to leave the Republican Party Thursday, saying he has little chance of capturing a U.S. Senate seat from Florida in a three-way race.
One prominent Florida Republican called it "the biggest betrayal in American history since Benedict Arnold."
Reaction to Crist's decision to bolt his own party, which he is expected to announce at 5 p.m. Thursday in St. Petersburg, came fast and furious.
Fox News commentator and Newsmax contributor Dick Morris, who previously had said a Crist independent bid would be "disgusting," told Newsmax in an exclusive interview: "It's irresponsible of Crist to do this. It's an act of egomania. It's an act of putting himself ahead not only of his party, but of his country."
Crist believes he's so important to America that he's willing to endanger not only a Senate seat but also GOP control of the Senate, Morris says. Crist's independent bid will make GOP hopes of capturing the Senate more problematic, he says.
A host of experts in media and politics belittled Crist's chances:
- "I don't think his chances of success would be very good at all," Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn told the Miami Herald.
- Roll Call political columnist Stuart Rothenberg recently reported that Crist's base in the GOP is "virtually nonexistent." "Running as an independent would confirm the line of attack that Crist's critics have leveled at him – that he is an opportunist who will do or say anything that he needs in order to further his personal goals."
- Although Crist has big campaign coffers, his GOP funding will dry up immediately. Not only will GOP donors stop writing checks but also some who have donated to Crist's campaign are expected to demand their money back. "Charlie seems to have burned a lot of bridges, and I don't see him hurting our party if he drops out of our Senate primary and runs on his own," a former state party official told the Washington Times.
- Florida GOP Chairman John Thrasher told the Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog that he won't "whipsaw" top Republicans in the state to force them to shun Crist. A lot of Republicans, however, will feel that Crist has betrayed them, Thrasher said.
- Florida State Rep. David Rivera, who is running for Congress, likened Crist to Benedict Arnold and said he will not join Crist for the state Legislature's traditional photo op with the Florida governor that had been scheduled for Friday.
- A Crist independent bid will be met with furious, unequivocal opposition from the grass-roots conservative, tea party movement. "I think his chances are slim," Florida Tea Party Patriots leader Everett Wilkinson tells Newsmax. "We'd like to see tax-and-spend politicians just retire, but if Charlie Crist wants to run as an independent, or on the socialist ticket, it's a free country." Wilkinson adds that "the polling has shown America is against tax-and-spend politicians like him."
Crist's reported decision to bolt the GOP appears to have even the polls flummoxed regarding how it will affect the political outcome in November. An April 15 Quinnipiac poll showed conservative favorite Marco Rubio trouncing Crist in the GOP primary by a whopping 23 points. But in a three-way race, the poll showed Crist would edge out Rubio and grab the seat.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released last week came to a quite different conclusion, however. It showed Rubio prevailing in a three-way race by 37 percent to 30 percent, with Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek trailing with 22 percent. It's not clear whether Crist would siphon off more votes from Rubio or Meek. The Rasmussen poll showed that 33 percent of Democrats would cast their votes for Crist rather than Meek if he were on the ballot.
Interestingly, a strong 56 percent of Florida voters approve of Crist's job performance as governor. But Crist, whose image with Republicans sustained a major blow when he endorsed President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan, has problems that transcend his management of state government.
Political guru John Mercurio, a Newsmax magazine contributing editor, wrote in National Journal that, "Crist is the unlikely victim of both a national wave of anti-establishment sentiment, especially within the GOP, and Florida voters' narrowly targeted distrust of his judgment. His decision is a personal quandary that affects him in this race and beyond, but it also has far-reaching implications this fall for races up and down the state's ballot."
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, tells Newsmax: "I’ve studied three-way contests of this type, and I’ve learned one thing above all: They are unpredictable this far out. The dynamics can change overnight, depending on who is attacking whom and for what.
"Most independent candidates don’t stand a chance, but Crist fits the exception: well known people already in high office. He’s going to present himself as the centrist between two extremes. But he won’t have the money or organization that comes automatically to a party nominee. This is a wild match-up, and anything is possible."
Sabato says he'd give Rubio "the slightest edge," because he’s the Republican running in a GOP year.
"Meek has to hope for an even split of Republicans and independents, so he can squeak through with mid-30s. Crist has to find a way to get Rubio and Meek fighting each other, not just him, and he has to keep them from encroaching on his middle-of-the-road territory. Now that Rubio and Meek are the nominees, expect them to start finding moderate positions to stress on at least some policy issues."
Sabato points out that Florida is the nation's 4th largest state, where media coverage can be expensive.
"Only Crist has a free forum — the governorship," he says. "Maybe that balances his lack of big money and organization. The only thing we know for sure is that this contest now goes to the top-of-the-deck nationally."
As Sabato indicates, the battle over the U.S. Senate seat is sure to attract major national attention. Justin Sayfie, the editor of the Florida political news site SayfieReview.com, told CNN.com that such a high-profile race in a major swing state is "unprecedented in Florida, and I would say unprecedented in the country."
Crist supporter Mike Fasano, a state senator, is defending the governor's decision to make an independent run, pointing to the rising strength of independent voters. "Whatever decision he makes will be the right one and I will support him," Fasano said. "If it's nonpartisan, I think he has an outstanding chance of getting elected."
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