It’s not a good sign for Charlie Crist when the discussion moves from “Can he win the GOP primary?” to “Is he really going to run as an independent?” But that’s where the discussion is moving as poll after poll shows Marco Rubio clobbering the incumbent governor in the Republican Senate primary. Stuart Rothenberg probably does Crist no favors by writing that he is so out to lunch he doesn’t see a coming defeat:
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.
Nor is it clear that Crist would do any better with the voters as an independent because polls show that Rubio would still win handily in a three-way race. Rothenberg notes:
Insiders seem to agree that a Crist Independent bid would damage the governor’s credibility and rob him of much of the Republican and Democratic support he currently has in hypothetical ballot tests, certainly putting him at great risk of a third-place finish.
Running as an Independent would confirm the line of attack that Crist’s critics have leveled at him — that he is an opportunist who will do or say anything that he needs to in order to further his personal goals. And that would peel Republican and Democratic supporters away from him quickly.
There seems to be no good option for Crist, who went from popular governor and rising star to a maligned insider and the object of derision by the conservative base. (You’d have to go back to McLean Stevenson’s ill-conceived decision to leave the cast of the M*A*S*H TV series to find a worse career move.) Politics is treacherous business, especially for those who lack a sense of the political environment and of their own limitations.