Wall Street Journal: Crist Advisers Push Independent Bid In Florida Senate Race

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Could Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), who is trailing badly in his Republican primary for Senate, bolt the GOP and run as an independent? The Wall Street Journal reports that some of his supporters and advisers are telling him to do just that.

“If you were to put a gun to my head, I’d say he’s running as an independent,” said an anonymous GOP strategist who served as an adviser to Crist.

A key factor in such a decision is that Florida law does not allow Crist to pull a Joe Lieberman — that is, he cannot run in the Republican primary, lose the primary, and then run as an independent candidate. Crist will have to decide what to do by the April 30 filing deadline.In recent weeks, Crist’s campaign has strongly denied any accusation that he would run as an independent. However, in this latest article Crist campaign manager Eric Eikenberg only told the Journal that Crist would “qualify for office.” When pressed further on what party affiliation Crist would file under Eikenberg responded: “I’m not going to respond to Marco Rubio campaign-driven rhetoric about Charlie Crist.”

Some of Crist’s recent actions point toward a potential break with the GOP. Last week, Crist vetoed a campaign-finance bill that was passed by the GOP legislature. Another key thing to look out for is whether Crist ends up signing or vetoing an education bill from the GOP-led legislature, which would eliminate tenure for new teachers and introduce a new pay scale based on student performance. If Crist were to veto the measure, it would be a decisive split with the Republicans — and could get him the support of the teacher’s union, as well.

The Journal also cites a Crist fundraiser who is in favor of an independent run — and has not gotten a clear answer from Crist about it:

John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer who has raised money for Mr. Crist, said the governor’s campaign “is debating right now” what it stands to gain from its negative-ad barrage and vetoing the education bill.

Mr. Morgan said he lobbied the governor by phone during the weekend to make an independent run. But he said Mr. Crist offered no definitive indication of his intentions.

Crist began this race with what seemed like an insurmountable lead in the Republican primary. However, Rubio has been able to mobilize support based on his own hard-line conservative image, and on opposition to Crist due to the governor’s support for President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. The TPM Poll Average gives Rubio a lead of 59.1%-27.4%, the mirror image of similar leads for Crist last year.