Despite Governor Crist's continual denying of his interest in running for the United States Senate as an independent, this is the rumor that will not die.
If you wanted to believe he was on the verge of making history and running as an independent candidate, you could certainly find compelling evidence in his recent record. He vetoed a key priority of his own party, recommended that federal prosecutors look into the state GOP, and renewed his support for the President's economic stimulus. He's also embraced some views of the populist right, most notably, suing the federal government over the President's health care plan, and in many ways, his approach against Marco Rubio has been to paint him as a typical insider politician, a strategy he'd certainly employ as a third party candidate.
While you could argue he was setting up a run up the middle, embracing the 'popularist' tenets of both sides of the current ideological debate, I am not convinced he is leaving the GOP primary, but I am convinced he is at least considering it.
Take this to the next level. Can he win?
The answer: It's tough, and may end up being the real reason why he doesn't do it.
Let's look at one electoral scenario to help make this point.
Assuming the electorate on Election Day is 42% Democratic, 40% Republican and 18% Independent (Dems currently have a 7% advantage, so a 2 point advantage on election day is a fairly conservative estimate), even if Crist got 25% of the Republican and Democratic vote, and a whopping 60% of Independents (with Meek/Rubio splitting the rest), he would only get to 31%, several points short of a win number.
In the more plausible, though still difficult scenario that he gets 50% of independents, he would need 31% of both Rs and Ds (assuming Meek/Rubio split the rest of the NPA) to get to a plurality of voters. It is hard for me to see that many voters from either party bucking their party nominee. Below 50% of Independents, and he has no chance whatsoever.
That being said, if any politician could pull it off, Crist is positioned to make a run. He starts with universal name ID and a hefty bank account. He's also the Governor, meaning he can still earn press simply by turning on the fan and walking up to the podium. No other potential third party candidate has had or will have those kinds of advantages---and if it were ever going to happen, the unpredictable 2010 electorate would give him a better shot than most years.
I have another post coming looking more specifically at the Crist pros and cons scoreboard, but as it stands, the biggest downside is the electoral math. On the flip side, he may have no other choice. Winning the GOP primary looks harder each and every day, and his attacks on Rubio don't seem to be having much impact. Certainly, today's news that Rubio raised more than $3 million in the first quarter of 2010 will give him even more reason to consider making the move.
Nonetheless, until the deadline for him to make the switch, this debate will continue to make for some fun Tallahassee and Washington chatter.