Now that he's alienated just about everybody who's anybody in the Florida Republican Party — including Lord Jeb Bush — with his sensible veto of the teacher merit-pay bill, Gov. Charlie Crist has two choices when it comes to his political future:
- Fall on his veto pen, stay a Republican and suffer an excruciating martyr's death at the hands of Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate primary in August.
- Run as an independent and win.
At this point, I'd pretty much bet my underwater mortgage, the state's guaranteed billions from the Seminole compact and Crist's lagging campaign war chest that he goes rogue by the April 30 deadline.
It would be the best thing for him.
And if he gets to Washington as an independent, it could be the best thing for Florida. (I'll explain that later).
Actually, Michael, the best thing for Florida would be an Alex Sink in the Governor's mansion.
There are twenty consecutive diaries in my recent past that chronicle, in no uncertain emotion, the hellish battle that was waged over Senate Bill 6. The saga began on March 27th and ended on April 15th. Charlie Crist turned out to be the hero, but he will no longer be around to save us next year.
If Bill McCollum beats Alex Sink, we are sunk.
That battle can wait for another day, however. Today we are talking Charlie.
If Crist ditches his party, he becomes the instant front-runner in a three-way race against Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek in the November general election.
Instead of falsely pandering to an audience that despises him — the conservative base that forms the bulk of Republican primary voters — Crist the Populist could directly go to work on the moderate millions that genuinely like him.
There are roughly 11.1 million registered voters in Florida. More than 7 million aren't Republicans.
In winning the 2006 governor's race, Crist handily carried the state's independent voters (who now number 2.1 million) and he had solid crossover appeal with Democrats (who now total nearly 4.7 million).
Independents and Democrats don't get to vote in Republican primaries in Florida's closed system. But they can put Crist over the top in November.
You should have seen the speed with which the Kendrick Meek campaign cut a ten second snippet from the Tweety Show on Friday when Chuck Todd proclaimed the Democrat the instant favorite in the aftermath of SB6. Michael Mayo disagrees, and my senses say this is currently a three-way. Tie ballgame. Rubio is mad dirty, you just watch.
Back to Charlie...
Crist had his finest moment last week in vetoing the flawed teacher bill, showing that he's willing to change his mind after listening to legitimate concerns.
Charlie the Faux Ideologue was gone. Common-sense Charlie was back.
He did the right thing, not the right-wing thing.
If Crist runs as an independent, he doesn't have to distance himself from all the sensible things he's done, like battling insurance companies to keep windstorm rates in check. His embrace of the federal stimulus package (and sharing a stage with President Barack Obama) no longer would be a liability.
Here's how it could be the best thing for Florida: If he wins as an independent, Crist could find himself the most powerful senator in the country.
Democrats now have a 57-41 edge over Republicans in the Senate, and there are two independents who align with the Democrats, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
With 36 Senate seats up for grabs in November, Democrats and Republicans could end up virtually deadlocked for the majority.
Could you imagine if there was a 49-48 split and Crist were one of three independents?
Anything Florida wanted, Florida would get.
Hoo boy, I like the sound of that. It may be a stretch, but after having my brain sqeezed out of my ears like Sunshine State orange juice over the past three weeks...