Crist leaves Republican party

04/30/10 Kate Bradshaw
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It’s official: Governor Charlie Crist is running for US Senate with no party affiliation. He announced it in Downtown St. Petersburg yesterday to a mostly adoring crowd.

The announcement comes after months of speculation as to whether Crist would stay in the Republican party and face ultra-conservative GOP Senate hopeful Marco Rubio in the primary, or go independent. The former would have meant campaigning against a once unknown opponent who now leads him in the polls by nearly thirty points. While the Rubio camp paints Crist’s move as one rooted in political ambition, Crist told a crowd of hundreds that something else was compelling him to disembark.

The crowd consisted of both Republicans and Democrats. Many were teachers praising him for vetoing Senate Bill Six (SB 6), also known as the teacher tenure bill. Crist said he prefers to focus on policy rather than politics.

And he was ready with a list of past decisions that challenged, if not ignored, the Republican Party line. His mention of SB 6 garnered an especially warm response.

Governor Crist frequently said the words “people first,” in his speech, and condemned the political battles that have soured Tallahassee and Washington for many.

That comes months after Crist viciously attacked Rubio over his use of a state Republican Party credit card. He even accused the former State House Speaker of getting his back waxed on the party dime. That didn’t come up in his speech. Instead, as several Rubio supporters held signs accusing him of betraying the GOP, Crist took aim at party politics.

Republicans including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint had urged Crist to drop out of the race completely. While many from that party have criticized Crist’s move, some applaud him. Watson Haynes, a community activist who was Crist’s appointee to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, switched his affiliation from Republican to Democrat earlier that day.

Kathy Bell is a teacher and a Republican. She said that when it comes to political parties, she’ll go where Crist goes.

Sharon Flory is also a teacher, but a Democrat. She supports Crist because of SB 6.

George Brown, a Republican, said that he knows Crist personally, and thinks that the GOP’s portrayal of him as merely ambitious is inaccurate.

There were even some prominent Democrats there to show support, including former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. Another was St. Petersburg City Councilmember Wengay Newton, who did not explicitly say he supported Crist.

Crist’s decision to run without a party affiliation means that the November ballot will likely feature the governor, Rubio, and Democrat Kendrick Meek for the US Senate seat. In a year marked by bitter division over everything from ideology to government spending, the winner of this race could take the Senate seat with as little as thirty-five percent of the votes cast.

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