A Florida television station and conservative blogger Dan Rheil are claiming that Charlie Crist will announce today that he's going to run for Senate with no party affiliation. My reporting suggests that those reports are premature. I'm not sure that Crist has made up his mind yet -- and there's a chance that he'll drop out of the race altogether. Thursday, Crist vetoed a GOP-backed teacher merit pay bill, much to the surprise and applause of teachers' unions and others. That prompted his campaign chairman and political mentor, Rep. Connie Mack, to resign. If Crist stays on the ballot as a Republican, most of his vote (for now at least) seems to move to Democrat Kendrick Meek.
If Crist does announce, he'll become the frontrunner, at least temporarily which means that the Senate, come November, could have an entire bloc of independents -- well, two -- Lieberman and Crist. This would be unprecedented in the modern era. Add to that the likely election of former sentator Lincoln Chafee as governor of Rhode Island, and you've got the makings of something. Would Crist caucus with Dems? Probably.
Crist's journey from obscure Florida politician to potential Republican VP candidate, to pariah, to independent (if he makes the final move) took him only six years.
Was Crist forced out of the GOP by the Tea Party movement? That'll be the claim, but that's not what happened here: Crist was forced into the clothes of a character he did not like to play: modern politics' archetype of a conservative Republican. He never established a solid political identity, and an in this age of ideology, he was easily out-distanced by a rock-ribbed, young, attractive conservative. Marco Rubio certainly capitalized on the Tea Party energy, but Crist's mismatch with conservatives in his party is longstanding and, indeed, fundamental.
NB: NBC's First Read reports that Crist "is getting much of his political advice nowadays from GOP strategist Mitch Bainwol, and they are considering two options right now: 1) making an independent bid, which would turn the general election into a toss-up; and 2) dropping out of the race altogether and turning his sights to a 2012 Senate challenge against Bill Nelson (D). But right now, no one is seriously talking about Crist staying in a GOP primary he's trailing by double digits. The filing deadline is at the end of this month."
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Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.