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Crist Independent Bid Could Hurt for Money

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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist appears set to run for the Senate as an Independent, but he won’t be legally bound to return the money that he has already raised from Republican donors.

With an Independent bid for Senate by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist appearing to be only a matter of time, political observers and operatives have begun to game out the mechanics of a third-party bid by the one-time darling of national Republicans.

As with everything in politics, the most important consideration at the outset for an Independent Crist will be money.

As of March 31, Crist was sitting on a healthy $7.6 million in his federal campaign account, but he’s going to need every penny of that and more in a race where a statewide media buy will likely cost well more than $1 million per week this fall.

Besides advertising, Crist will have to build a get-out-the-vote operation and gather voter information to microtarget his voters. One operative who has worked on multiple high-profile Independent campaigns said both of those important campaign components — which make up a major part of what party organizations provide — can be bought on the open market, for a price.

But unlike New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), who spent $102 million of his vast fortune to win re-election last fall, Crist can’t self-fund his bid.

In September, a Sunshine State business magazine, Florida Trend, pegged Crist’s net worth at less than half a million dollars, and the governor’s tax returns from last year list his income in 2009 at about $130,000.

As a Republican, Crist has been a record-setting fundraiser, but he will face a unique task in trying to attract money without access to the donor network provided by a national party infrastructure.

Still, the Independent campaign operative said it’s not impossible.

“There’s room for Independent candidates in the environment we have now,” the operative said. “Voters around the country crave Independents and crave someone who is willing to not be partisan. Someone who is willing to put results ahead of special interests and parties.”

With enough money, the operative said, a field operation is something Crist could have up and running in a matter of weeks.

A Democratic strategist also said there’s certainly reason to fear an Independent bid by Crist when it comes to the fundraising game.

“The money is not going to be easy, but it can happen,” the operative said, pointing to the $17 million that Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) raised in his 2006 campaign. Crist “is still the sitting governor. ... I think it all depends on whether people see a path to victory with him. People want to be with a winner.”

As Crist tries to make his case as an Independent, he’ll also be dealing with the flip side of campaign fundraising: GOP donors wanting their money back.

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