Crist Makes Independent Bid Official

Posted April 29, 2010 at 5:48pm

Updated: 7:15 p.m.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist made his Independent Senate bid official Thursday afternoon and drew the instant ire of the Republican Party officials who had endorsed his campaign almost exactly one year ago.

Crist’s move sets up a high-profile three-way general election with former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D).

“My decision to run for the United States Senate as a candidate without party affiliation in many ways says more about our nation and our state than it does about me,” Crist said to a crowd of supporters and family members who gathered in St. Petersburg, Fla. “As someone who served the people of Florida for more than 15 years … I can confirm what most Floridians already know. Unfortunately our political system is broken. … I think we need a new tone in Washington.”

The announcement drew criticism from top Republican Party officials.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which endorsed Crist last year when he was the unquestioned frontrunner for the seat, immediately shot out a press release in which top GOP leaders blasted Crist for his move.

“More than a year ago, Governor Crist asked for our endorsement with a commitment that he would proudly represent Floridians and our party with principled conservative leadership. Quite simply, he did not keep his word,” GOP Senate leaders including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and NRSC Chairman John Cornyn said in a joint statement. “The question for Floridians is whether he will keep his word about all of the new promises he makes. Elections are about trust and frankly, it is unclear whether Governor Crist deserves any.” Crist for months has trailed former state Speaker Marco Rubio badly in polls of the GOP primary. This week was the deadline for candidates to file for the Nov. 2 general election as an Independent candidate, and Crist chose to make the move.

Crist said his political philosophy has led him toward the Independent path.

“I haven’t supported an idea because it’s a Republican idea or a Democratic idea,” he said. “I support ideas because I think they are good ideas for the people.”

But Crist also acknowledged the challenges that an Independent candidacy presents.

“I am aware that after this speech ends I don’t have either party helping me. I need you, the people, more than ever,” he said. “It is a decision for all the people of Florida to make. That’s why we go straight to November.”

Rubio released a statement bashing Crist for being wrong on the issues, no matter which label he chooses to run under.

“This election’s outcome was never going to hinge on whether he chose to run as a Republican or not,” Rubio said. “This race is a referendum between the limited government, free market American identity I will fight to preserve versus the costly and intrusive big government agenda that both Governor Crist and Congressman Meek support.”

Democrats clearly see the move as a boost to their chances of taking over a seat that earlier this cycle appeared to be a long-shot chance at best.

Meek, who continued to call Crist a Republican in his statement, said his campaign is now in a “commanding position” in the Senate race.

“Our two Republican opponents are architects of Florida’s failed economy, both favor more tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate special interests as their only economic proposal, and both are involved in the same income tax evasion scandal,” Meek said. “A hard-working, hands-on leader is what Florida needs now, not bickering politicians.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said in his own release that the move by Crist is an indication of “a divided Republican Party cannibalizing itself.”

And as that infighting continues through November, Menendez said, “Kendrick has run a very strong campaign and will likely emerge as the candidate of choice for Democrats, Independents and even moderate Republicans.”