Florida Governor Charlie Crist skulked away from the Republican Party like a rebellious teenager. Not unlike a rebellious teenager, Crist’s biggest problems could be finances, self-identity and attitude.
“It seems that Charlie is dying the death of a thousand cuts,” said Jamie Miller, a Republican political consultant in Florida. "I don’t know that going independent is anything but another self inflicted cut.”
When Arlen Specter switched parties, the result was palpable: outrage from the right, a media barrage and angry donors demanding their money back. But Specter’s switch provided only a modest boost for his Republican challenger, Pat Toomey, which didn’t even come until several months later.
There could be similar circumstances in Florida. As they were with Specter, the national Republican party is clearly outraged at Crist, with Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), saying that Republicans will fully support Rubio after Crist’s official announcement on Thursday.
As with Specter, the media barrage is only growing, and the story hasn’t yet broke on whether donors want their money back. Charlie Crist has an impressive war chest already, with about $10 million in the bank. So he might be able to weather the storm, or he might not, if donations completely dry up.
The biggest question, then, is whether Crist’s switch will keep Rubio’s explosive momentum going and show tangible returns when the ballots are counted. The governor is polling ten to twenty points behind Rubio in a primary election, but a general election contest is a whole different can of worms. One poll shows that a hypothetical three-way contest between Rubio, Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek would put Crist ahead. Another poll of the same scenario puts Rubio ahead.
Perhaps the biggest factor is the direction and level of intensity of the national interest that is focused on the race.
“The national interest has been up until now focused on… this national narrative – promoted by the left – of intra-party fighting by the Republicans,” said Jamie Sayfie, author of the influential Sayfie report on Florida politics. The national narrative is likely to continue, “especially when you factor in the attitudes of the mainstream media about the tea party, and the perception that the tea party movement has fueled Rubio’s campaign.”