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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.

On conservative website RedState.com this week, Erick Erickson wrote that the first order of business after Crist leaves the party will be for all Republican Senators who backed Crist to immediately demand their money back.

In addition, Erickson wrote, “I hope the Club for Growth will, like they did with [party-switching Sen.] Arlen Specter [D-Pa.], get every Crist donor to demand their money back.”

Crist won’t be legally obligated to return the money that he’s raised and could try weathering the storm to preserve precious cash. But that would create its own issues with news stories about donors saying Crist took their money under false pretenses. If nothing else, it will be an awkward story for Crist to deal with as he tries to relaunch and rebrand himself.

A Crist Independent bid also would probably further energize the fundraising of his top competitor, former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R), who has already benefited from a flood of high-profile endorsements from the party establishment who are flocking to his campaign.

“All the people who wrote checks to Crist ... are going to want to get on the right side of this” and do so quickly, one Republican operative said this week.

Rubio outraised Crist $3.7 million to $1.2 million during the first quarter of 2010 (Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek raised $1.1 during that time.) And as Crist begins trying to cultivate a new donor base from voters in the middle of the ideological spectrum, Rubio will have the tried-and-true donors who make up the party base to himself.

Money will certainly be the top priority for the rest of the cycle for Crist, but in the early days of an Independent candidacy, he’d also have to spend time putting together an entirely new campaign team.

Crist has seen his campaign structure begin to fall apart as he’s begun to move toward an Independent candidacy, including former Sen. Connie Mack’s resignation as campaign chairman last week.

It’s safe to say he’ll see a mass exodus of staff, advisers and supporters on the day he drops his Republican Party label.

“Nobody of any consequence is going to risk their career for a one-in-a-million shot,” the Republican operative said.

Erickson said he is prepared to dish out harsh punishments for anyone who dares stick with Crist.

“We need to see which Republican operatives stay with Crist and make sure they have a hard time finding work,” Erickson wrote last week.

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