For all the hype and anticipation of yesterday's announcement in St. Petersburg, Fla., that Gov. Charlie Crist will leave the Republican Party and run for the Senate without party affiliation, the event itself felt pretty flat. I wasn't in St. Pete and only had the vantage of watching it on TV.
But for something that had been breathlessly covered by every cable channel for days, it seemed to me to lack any drama or tension. I confess I haven't seen Crist give that many speeches, but this one didn't have any flair or memorable moments or anything of the sort. It felt less than inspired, or worse.
All of which makes me wonder: Has the high point of Crist's independent candidacy come and gone?
Maybe yes, maybe no, but today certainly brought a low point.
Roll Call's John McArdle reports that George LeMieux, Crist's longtime ally and former campaign manager and chief of staff, the guy Crist appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat last August when Mel Martinez (R) resigned, announced that he will not back his former boss in his third-party quest. Here's what LeMieux had to say:
Our friendship runs deep, but my commitment to the principles of the Republican Party runs deeper. I cannot walk down the path he has chosen. ... Now more than ever, our nation’s future depends on our ability to uphold the core Republican ideals of fiscal restraint, peace through strength, individual liberty, personal responsibility and smaller government.
McArdle offers the speculation, shared by others, that LeMieux's decision is a "likely" sign that "he has future ambitions for elected office." His name has been bandied about as a potential challenger to Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in 2012.
But at least LeMieux wasn't harsh in discussing Crist's move. That wasn't the case with most Sunshine State Republicans, as the St. Petersburg Times' Smith & Reinhard wrote today:
Crist's widely anticipated announcement was immediately followed by an avalanche of harsh condemnations from most every top Republican in Florida, who accused him of putting his own ambition above all else.
"This decision is not about policy or principles,'' said former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has all but endorsed Rubio. "It is about what he believes is in his political self-interest.'' ...
After being pilloried for embracing President Barack Obama's stimulus package and other policies favored by Democrats, Crist now faces being branded as the ultimate traitor to his party. In a closely divided U.S. Senate, a seat long viewed as a Republican sure bet is now up for grabs in a race in which Rubio and Crist could split the party's voters.
"He did not keep his word,'' said the arm of the national party that oversees Senate campaigns, which yanked the endorsement it gave the then-popular governor immediately after he first announced his campaign one year ago. Florida Republican chairman John Thrasher quipped he was taking the governor's portrait down from the party headquarters and putting it on eBay.
"Betrayal! Betrayal!'' a heckler shouted at the governor as he made his way through a throng of supporters after the rally.
Here's more local coverage from the Jacksonville Observer.
As for the latest poll that showed Crist narrowly up in a three-way race, forget it, says GOP pollster Jim McLaughlin. He's quoted in Mike Thomas' blog in the Orlando Sentinel as saying "that as the election goes on, Democrats and Republicans will start heading back to their own candidates. As Crist’s poll numbers drop, that dynamic only will increase":
I would make a pretty good bet he not only will not win, he will run an embarrassing third. I think he’s done politically.
Meanwhile, the Democratic race got more complicated as well. Jeff Greene, a Palm Beach real estate billionaire, announced his candidacy as well:
I am an outsider, the only candidate who isn't a career politician. I've succeeded in the real world of hard work — the others have only succeeded at running for political office after office.
St. Pete Times' Adam Smith shares his amazement with the rest of us:
And you thought Florida's topsy-turvy election year couldn't get crazier. ...
His colorful profile - Mike Tyson was best man at his 2008 wedding, ex-Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house after prison, and he made many of his millions betting on the housing collapse that killed Florida's economy - normally would make a candidate like Greene a long shot.
But in a race where Democratic frontrunner Kendrick Meek is little known to most voters and Crist's non-partisan candidacy means it will be a three-way race, Greene's ability to saturate Florida TV with commercials could make him a major contender.