Charlie Crist: ‘hell no, I won’t go (Independent)’

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist says he's staying a Republican.

[UPDATE: corrected from earlier post] One of the shots heard round the blogosphere this week was the speculation in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel blog post by a right wing “conservative activist from Palm Beach County” named Jack Funari, that Charlie Crist would soon leave the GOP and run for the U.S. Senate as an Independent. I called a good friend of mine today who is an active participant in Republican Party politics in neighboring Broward County, and he barely knew who Funari was. Still, Funari’s post is revving up the newest Florida parlor game: speculating on Crist’s potential future either as a Democrat (as Markos Moulitsas seems to want, having told me in response to a question for my last column that Crist’s future “really comes down to how much of a political survivor he truly is. If he wants to be US Senator, he won’t get to do it as a Republican…”) or as an Independent, as Funari speculates in his “blind sources” screed at the Sun-Sentinel, which cites “highly placed sources” but doesn’t name names, and in which the only thing that’s made clear is that Funari hates him some Charlie Crist (though he denies he’s working for Team Rubio.) Neither my Republican pal nor any Democratic party types I spoke to today had heard anything about Crist jumping parties, which doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but for now, there’s just no proof it will.

Crist did his best to knock down the rumors on Friday, while also taking the opportunity to take a few more good shots at Marco Rubio, husband to the former first lady of the Florida House:

“It’s not going to happen,” Crist said at an event in Broward County, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Crist also kept up his offensive against Rubio, who is back-pedaling this week after revelations that he made personal charges on his Republican Party of Florida credit card. The governor brushed off Rubio’s claim that Crist allies leaked the credit card information to newspapers.

“He is the one who made these charges, not me, not any of my friends,” Crist said, according to the Times. “I mean, you know, when you do something like that you ought to just take personal responsibility.”

“The people will decide this issue,” he said. “I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t like that kind of double dipping. It’s just like taxpayers’ money. You ought to treat those funds in a vey sacred way.”

He added: “Like I said yesterday, welcome to the NFL. If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.”

Crist would likely win a three-way race for the Senate against Rubio and Kendrick Meek, IMHO, based on name recognition and the fact that he still draws solid support from Independents, and from moderate Republicans and Democrats. And as I’ve said before, a lot of Democrats I know really like the guy, despite his big tack to the right last year once the Rubio threat became real, and before he got real and tacked back to the center-right by defending his support of the stimulus.) But  I think there are a few reasons Crist would not make the switch.

For one thing, he may not have to. I remain a lonely believer in the non-inevitability of Marco Rubio as the Republican Senate nominee in Florida. The Rubio/Republican Party AMEX slush fund scandal is gaining traction, and there is still a ton of fodder there for journalists and Crist supporters to dig into. Even beyond his John Edwards style pricey haircuts and free spending with his party credit card, there are still serious questions about Marco Rubio’s “tea party/outsider” authenticity, which Crist could exploit in the many months still to go before the August primary, whether it’s his ties to GOP establishment types like Jeb Bush and radical insiders like Jim DeMint, or his still undiscussed, but potentially damaging, position on privatizing Social Security. Believe it or not, even as the sitting governor of Florida, the existence of a “shadow Jeb Bush”/national GOP element within the Rubio candidacy makes Crist a kind of “outsider” himself, within the context of the present Republican Party. After all, he’s the guy being beset by his predecessor’s allies, attacked for pursuing the very “bipartisanship” polls show most Americans want, and not for nothing, he didn’t have a Republican Party of Florida credit card, while his opponent is no anonymous teabagger — he’s the former Speaker of the Florida House. At the same time, Crist, though wounded, has at his disposal all the benefits of being a sitting governor, with all the financial and other resources that entails, including the opportunity to govern his way out of his present crisis.

Second, while the tea parties are media eye candy, I’m still not convinced they represent all that many actual voters. Many of the most ideologically “pure” tea partiers are registered Independents/Libertarians, who are of no use to Rubio in a closed primary. And there is a lot about Rubio that could work against him in northern Florida, including his being a”Miami politician” with all the imagery that entails, a general fatigue with “the Cuba thing” among non-Hispanic voters, his soft previous stance on immigration (he’s gone crazy right wing on that now, which is hurting him with Cuban-Americans, I’m told by someone involved in Cuban talk radio) and his history as House speaker, where one of the things he proposed was a tax increase. You’ve simply got to believe that Crist’s oppo research team has plenty more dirt to dole out on Rubio, and that they’ll spend the next six months dishing it out. Polls look bleak for Crist now, but in politics, 6 months is an eternity. A more aggressive, robust Crist campaign, coupled with further credit card or other disclosures (IRS audit, maybe?) and further Republican Party of Florida scandal will inevitably drag Rubio’s numbers down. After all, February is a hell of an early time to peak for an August primary.

That’s not to say Crist won’t jump ship if things still look bad for him by April (the deadline to switch his party filing.) I’m just not sure if the current speculation is a feint by his supporters to scare rank and file Republicans, wishful thinking by Democrats unhappy with Kendrck Meek or by right wing Republicans like Funari who would like to kick Crist out of the party, or just something interesting for the media and political junkies like me to talk about.

BTW on the notion that the switch rumors are coming from right wingers who want to either eject Crist from the GOP or make him look like a potential quitter, CQ Politics has this, which susses out the fact that at least one source of the rumors has Jim DeMint’s fingerprints all over it:

As the back and forth over the credit card flap heated up this week, Saul said she wasn’t surprised to see an uptick in chatter that Crist somehow harbored secret designs to run as an Independent.

“I believe the Rubio campaign stirs up rumors whenever it’s convenient for them,” said Crist’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul. “I’ve been asked about these rumors since my first day on the job. It’s been proven throughout this time that it’s a concerted effort from the Rubio campaign as evidenced by their most recent effort to buy ads about it on Drudge.”

The web ad on the Drudge Report that Saul was referring to was a link to a poll that asked Florida readers to vote on whether they thought Crist might leave the party to improve his chances of being elected.

The ads were not bought by Rubio but were paid for through independent expenditures from Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservative Fund political action committee. DeMint has endorsed Rubio in the Senate primary.

When the source of the ads were pointed out to Saul she chose not to engage directly with DeMint.

“I don’t doubt there are other forces at work as well, maybe even Democrats because they would rather run against Marco Rubio than Charlie Crist,” Saul said Thursday.

My question: why is DeMint so deeply involved in Florida’s Senate race? DeMint is a key fundraiser and supporter of Rubio, and has been for some time (RedState credits him with “discovering” Marco) and Rubio appears to be part of a larger DeMint strategy to stack the Senate with like minded people, most of whom are tied to the Social Security-hating Club for Growth.

BTW, this was the Crist campaign’s response to Funari’s post:

This patently false rumor is just that. Speaker Marco Rubio and his campaign have spent months trying to distract voters from his record of lavish spending, so it is no surprise that when he’s revealed as the consummate insider, typical big spending politician that he would try to change the subject with more false claims.”

-Andrea Saul, Communications Director, Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate

Meanwhile, Funari posts a new screed, defending his unsourced speculation.

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