On April 29, 2010, Gov. Crist announced that he would leave the Republican Party and run as an independent (technically, “no party affiliation”) candidate for the U.S. Senate. The governor's action comes after several months of polling in which he consistently trailed his Republican primary opponent, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami), by more than 20 percentage points. In his announcement speech, Gov. Crist said that “our political system is already broken. I am aware that after this speech ends, I don't have either party helping me.”
In a press interview after his campaign kickoff, Gov. Crist was asked whether he would retain his Republican Party registration. He responded by saying, “No, I'm an independent. Why not? If you're going to do it, do it.”
In response to questions about which party he would caucus with in the Senate if elected, Gov. Crist said he would caucus with “the people of Florida. I'll caucus with anybody who will help the people of Florida.” Both of the Senate's current Independent members, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, caucus with the Democrats.
Florida Republican officials reacted strongly to the governor's announcement. Former Gov. Jeb Bush said, “This decision is not about policy or principles. It is about what he believes is in his political self-interest.”
State Senator and Republican Party of Florida Chair John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) commented, “He's been gone [from the party] for a long time in my opinion. I think this just makes it kind of official.” Sen. Thrasher also said that the governor's portrait would be removed from party headquarters and put up for auction on eBay.
Some Republicans were more supportive of the governor's decision. Former Party Chair Jim Greer said, “After facing political threats and intimidation by Republican leaders, Charlie Crist once again put the people of Florida first over partisan politics and the mean-spirited, vindictive demands of the current Florida GOP leadership.”
Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), one of Gov. Crist's most loyal allies in the Legislature, said, “He cares about everyone in the State of Florida, not just Republicans. I wish we had more politicians like that.”
Mr. Rubio said that Gov. Crist and the Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District), “share the same unhealthy appetite for more government, more spending, and higher taxes.”
Rep. Meek said that both Gov. Crist and Mr. Rubio “are architects of Florida's failed economy, both favor more tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate special interests as their only economic proposal, and both are involved in the same income tax evasion scandal.”
On the same day that Gov. Crist announced his independent candidacy, another Democratic candidate entered the U.S. Senate race. Jeff Greene of Palm Beach, whose personal wealth exceeds $1 billion according to Forbes magazine, announced that he would run against Rep. Meek. He promised to limit campaign contributions to $100, adding “I'm not going to take a penny of special interest money.”
Another self-financed candidate, Republican Rick Scott of Naples, has begun running television advertising for his campaign for governor. Mr. Scott is challenging Attorney General Bill McCollum, who had a war chest of $3.9 million as of March 31, 2010. Newspapers have reported that Mr. Scott, who was previously CEO of Columbia/HCA and currently operates a group of urgent-care centers, has already spent $2 million on campaign advertising