By calling reporters tonight, Crist finally admitted that he is opening the door to running for something other than as a Republican for United States Senate. His admission was hardly a shock to anyone, given the last 3-4 months of chatter.
But needless to say, Crist has some hard questions to answer in the next week as he ponders his political future. None of his options are good. If he were to call me tonight, here are the six most pressing I think he needs to answer. I'd also tell him to go ahead and run as an independent for U.S Senate (before anyone gets any ideas, I support Kendrick Meek), because in the scheme of things, he has nothing to lose at this point, and a whole lot of upside if he pulls it off.
1. Who am I? Seems like a trite question in the scheme of political punditry, but this is a very personal moment for Crist. The decision to run as anything other than a Republican is at some level a repudiation of his long standing political positioning, and isn't a decision to be made lightly. Does he consider himself a Republican, Democrat or Independent? People change and have the right to change their affiliations, but should never do so simply for political gain (either way). For Crist, this is the most basic question he must answer before he takes one more step.
2. If I run as an independent for U.S Senate, operationally, how would I run a campaign? The vast majority of political operatives worth a salt pick sides. It is how the game is run. If I run, who will still be there to answer the phones, raise the money, make the television ads, manage the campaign, etc., and can I win with that team? Along the same lines, how will I raise the money? Will my finance people stay by my side, or bolt to Marco? Can I win with the money I currently have in the bank? Chances are, most of his team will bolt and he will be a man on an island for the first time in his career. Can he live with that?
3. Where are my votes coming from? In the process-driven news coverage of politics, one process story tends to get forgotten about: where does candidate X get the votes to beat candidate Y (or in this case, Y and Z). As I've written about recently, I believe that he needs 50% of NPA, and between 28-30% of both GOP/Dem. Some folks have written me and suggested the 30% number is more like 33-35%, given that the win number isn't 33.4%, but really is more like 36-37%, which is a very compelling argument.
Right now, the Q poll has Cristgetting 35% of Southwest Fl voters, a number given the moderate nature of GOP voters there, seems plausible. On the flip side, I have a hard time seeing him holding the 32% of North Florida voters, unless the bottom falls out of Meek, which I don't see happening. While some will say that Perot did well there, I think we can all agree that Crist does not really appeal to the same kind of voter as Perot. So what does the vote model look like? Can he sustain any bounce he gets from his initial announcement? And can he convince Republicans, who are traditionally much harder to break away from their party, to bolt in big enough numbers to get him to a win number?
4. What does running as an NPA and winning mean? The upside: there are days when you will be one the most important person in American politics, especially in a close Senate; you will be highly sought out for political endorsements from moderates, and your win in a state like Florida could (note italics) be transformational. The downside: You will likely be a man without a family in the Senate and with the attention comes the weight of intense pressure and scrutiny. Can you handle that? Do you want to handle that?
5. If I step aside gracefully, what next? Today, the Tallahassee chatterbox was centered on the rumor that Crist might just step aside completely. From where I sit, that means he serves out his term and has no short term plans to get back into politics. If he wanted to sit on his cash and run against Nelson, he'd probably still face a tough challenge from the right. That means his earliest next shot would be in 2014 (if Sink wins), 2016 (if Meek wins) or 2018, should Nelson win or there be an open seat at either Gov or Senate. Crist has lived virtually his entire life in the public eye and stepping away from the cameras is never easy for any politician. Can Crist do it?
6. Should I run for re-election? There are wild unconfirmed Tallahassee rumors that the Governor is polling whether he could run for re-election, and while who knows if they are true, he should ponder the question. With the entrance of Rick Scott into the GOP primary, all of the sudden, Crist could end up looking like the adult in the room. 30-35% could win that four way primary, and Crist, even in his worst poll numbers, seems to maintain that among the GOP. That being said, winning the primary still means a very tough race against Alex Sink.