Could Crist Win as Independent in Florida, Hurt Tea Party? The Times Has Hope

The Times portrays Florida governor Charlie Crist, who may drop out of the Republican Party and run as an independent candidate for Senate, as a moderate "pragmatist" in the mode of...Obama? Will Crist win and hurt the Tea Party movement? The Times has its hopes.

In "Crist May Test Odds as an Outsider," his Thursday "Political Memo" from Cocoa Beach, Fla, reporter Damien Cave sized up the election prospects of Florida's moderate Republican governor, Charlie Crist, locked in a tough battle in the Republican Senate primary with conservative Marco Rubio. But could Crist pull out a win as an independent candidate instead?

Despite recent polls showing Crist far out of favor among Republicans, Cave thinks Crist's chances in Florida of running and winning as an independent (thus upsetting the Tea Party and its favored candidate Rubio) look pretty decent:

Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida darted out of the Tallahassee rain on Tuesday, dragging a band of reporters to his office before answering The Question: Will you leave the Republican Party to run for the United States Senate as an independent - and why are you considering it?

"Things change," he said.

And how. In a matter of months, he has gone from a party favorite to a pariah for his moderate approach, while his opponent Marco Rubio is now a front-running magnet for both Tea Party activists and the Republican establishment.

To reinforce the point about unreasonable conservative expectations, the text box read: "A G.O.P. favorite becomes a pariah as a moderate."

If he chooses to run as an independent, Mr. Crist would be betting that the prevailing political logic of the moment is wrong - that despite the Tea Party's rise, the broader electorate still wants the pragmatic approach that propelled Barack Obama to victory here.

He'd also be breaking his pledge, made in a debate with Marco Rubio and on the campaign trail, that he would run against Rubio as a Republican, not as an independent candidate.

It's also disheartening that long after President Obama has proven himself a big-spending liberal with his stimulus package and health-insurance "reform," the Times still constantly portrays the president as some kind of moderate "pragmatist."

Cave focused on allegations against Rubio, before admitting that "Winning as an independent will be tough for Mr. Crist" because Florida has a relatively low percentage of voters unaffiliated with a party.

And Mr. Rubio may have more trouble ahead. An investigation into accusations that he used state party credit cards to pay for personal expenses while serving in the Florida Legislature continues to widen; on Wednesday, Politico reported that the Internal Revenue Service was looking into Mr. Rubio's tax records.


Independents and Democrats at the Cocoa Beach Pier on Wednesday were more welcoming. They said an outsider candidacy by Mr. Crist might give Floridians a way to protest partisan politics. "People are upset with the whole system, and we need more than two parties," said David Steranko, 39, a registered independent and Internet marketer of vacation packages. "I would really like to see our government stop bickering so much and work on our problems more."


What he has in his favor is name recognition - and, with an independent run, the power to attract news media coverage.

Including self-fulfilling coverage in the Times.

Cave oddly concluded with an optimistic quote about Crist from Steve Schale, the former state director for Obama's presidential campaign.

"I'm sure he's got to be considering in the back of his mind, if he goes this way and he wins, he's arguably become this transformative figure in American politics," Mr. Schale said. "I think he's the only guy who has the potential of pulling it off."

The Times can't make up their mind about Crist. On May 22, 2008, in a front-page story speculating on John McCain's possible choices for vice president, reporter Adam Nagourney painted Crist as a conservative:

Mr. Crist, who was Florida's attorney general before being elected governor in 2006, has also acquired a reputation as something of a hard-liner on law and order issues.

He supports the death penalty, largely opposes restrictions on the rights of gun owners, early on earned the nickname "Chain Gang Charlie" because he favored allowing convicts to be used in road work, and has described himself as a "pro-life and pro-family" candidate.

So two years ago the Times painted Crist in unflattering conservative terms. Today, the paper is painting Crist as a moderate, and his conservative opponents in unflattering terms.

You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.