Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Should Charlie Crist Roll the Dice to Save Long-Shot Senate Bid?

In less than a month, we will know whether Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is absolutely committed to running for the Senate this year as a Republican.

Crist, of course, says the matter is closed — that he is in the GOP race to stay. But some observers won’t be convinced until the filing deadline passes at noon on April 30.

They note the governor has launched a full-scale attack on former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R), and they speculate that he will wait to see what kind of damage he inflicts on Rubio over the next few weeks before deciding on his political course of action — whether it is dropping his Senate bid completely or running as an Independent.

There is plenty of reason for Crist to consider an Independent bid for Senate. Polling shows the governor’s standing has plummeted, and he now trails Rubio in every Republican primary poll, sometimes by breathtakingly large margins.

Crist’s base in the GOP is virtually nonexistent, according to one Florida veteran campaign watcher I spoke with recently. Since much of the governor’s job approval over the past year has come from Florida Democrats, an Independent bid aimed at weaving together a coalition of moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents doesn’t seem impossible, at least at first blush.

But savvy observers cite a number of reasons why they are skeptical that Crist will switch from the GOP contest to mount an Independent bid in the fall.

First, one insider said, Crist doesn’t yet believe that he will lose the Republican race.

“Charlie still doesn’t think he’s in trouble. He thinks this is just a phase in the race, and he and his people believe that with the stuff they have [on Rubio], they can turn it around.”

Though everyone acknowledges that the GOP primary is still almost five months away and that Crist has resources and ammunition to use against Rubio, Crist and his loyal supporters seem to be the only ones who believe that a comeback is realistic.

Veteran state observers note the trendlines of a long list of polls favor Rubio, and they comment that “nothing that Crist is throwing at Rubio is sticking,” an ominous sign for the governor.

A new controversy involving the state GOP’s former chairman, Jim Greer, who is seen by all as close to Crist, will only make it even more difficult for the governor. And the final month of the legislative session is likely to add to Crist’s woes.

Florida observers are already predicting that Rubio will receive a flood of cash after the Legislature ends its session on May 1, which will boost his campaign against Crist. Before the primary campaign began in earnest, insiders doubted that Rubio would have the resources he needed to defeat Crist. However, that concern has all but been erased.

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