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Q&A: Charlie Crist's independent bid for the U.S. Senate

Instead of running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, Gov. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he will run as a candidate with no party affiliation.

Why did he do it?

Behind in the polls by at least 20 points, it looked impossible for Crist to beat former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary.

Did he change his party registration?

He will change to no party affiliation.

Are there advantages or disadvantages?

The advantage is that it's probably his only hope at winning, and it frees him to take positions that may not play well with conservatives. Crist can capitalize on polls showing voters angry with establishment politicians. The disadvantage is fundraising sources will diminish considerably, and he won't have access to party infrastructure.

What happens to the money he raised as a Republican?

He can keep every dime of the roughly $6 million he is estimated to have on hand. And even if angry Republican donors demand refunds, he is not obligated to give their money back. Already, the Charlie Crist campaign is hearing from donors and is giving pro-rated refunds. A Senate campaign in Florida is expected to cost at least $15 million.

Where will his name appear on the Nov. 2 ballot?

Candidates with no party affiliation appear below the major party and minor party candidates. Libertarian candidate Alexander Snitker, for instance, will be listed before Crist, along with all Republican, Democratic and minor party candidates.

How does Crist overcome the absence of staff and the inability to raise "big party" money?

That's Crist's huge challenge, and why some analysts say an independent's best day is announcement day. As a sitting governor, Crist can still attract a lot of publicity, but it's not yet clear who will run his campaign and how quickly that transition will take place.

Has Florida ever elected a statewide independent candidate?

Sidney Catts ran for governor as a Democrat in 1916, but lost after a questionable recount. He then ran as Prohibition Party nominee and won, espousing racism and anti-Catholicism.

How many independents are in the U.S. Senate?

Two: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

What happens to the primary? Does Crist run in it or go to the general?

Crist won't have a primary; he'll aim for the general election Nov. 2. Rubio faces some obscure opponents in the Republican primary. Democratic frontrunner Kendrick Meek's underdog challengers include former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre and former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns.

What about Crist's campaign staff?

As veteran or aspiring Republican operatives, most are expected to quit the campaign rather than buck the GOP. It's unclear who Crist will bring on board to lead his campaign.

How many Floridians are registered independent? Compare that to Republicans and Democrats.

Independents and minor party voters account for about 22 percent of the electorate (and tend to vote less frequently than Democrats and Republicans). Nearly 42 percent of Florida voters are registered Democrats, and nearly 36 percent are Republicans.

If Crist wins as an independent, what does that mean for Florida's clout in Washington?

Crist would have enormous clout as a potential pivotal, swing vote on big issues.

Does an independent bid by Crist help Democrat Meek?

Not necessarily. The Democrats might have enjoyed Crist and Rubio tearing each other apart until the primary in late August, and it's also possible Crist winds up peeling significant votes from Meek.

Are there national groups that might contribute to an unaffiliated Crist?

Not many. He does have support from teachers, law enforcement groups, the NRA and some trial lawyers, but that doesn't necessarily translate into millions of dollars. It's also possible a group of wealthy supporters could fund an independent political committee to run TV ads boosting Crist.

Crist was once considered as a vice presidential candidate for John McCain. Does running without a party affiliation cut off any future chance for higher office?

Probably. But if Crist wins a seat in the Senate, he has six years to rebuild his reputation.

How will this decision affect Crist's staff in the governor's office and his ability to govern for the rest of his term?

Probably not much. The factor that will cause most of the turnover is Crist's lame-duck status as governor. All senior employees in the administration are at-will employees with no job security. They all know a new governor will take office in January and he or she will clean house. Beginning in July, the exodus of senior staffers from the Crist regime will begin to accelerate.

Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at adam@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8241.

Q&A: Charlie Crist's independent bid for the U.S. Senate 04/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 2:23pm]
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