On Jan. 4, Charlie Crist will step aside as governor of the fourth-largest state and for the first time in 18 years face life outside the public sector.
Back to practicing law, the profession he gave up for politics? Lobbying? Dancing with the Stars?
"With Charlie's knees, I don't think so,'' joked longtime friend Brent Sembler, who said Crist was so focused on his U.S. Senate campaign that he never even considered potential Plan B's.
"Politics is a passion of his, and Charlie's been lucky enough to make his passion his profession. Not all of us are that lucky,'' Sembler said. "I don't think he's really thought about it yet at all. I think he'll take the next two months and then figure out the next step."
Crist, 54, kept out of public view the morning after his nearly 20-point loss to Marco Rubio. He and his wife, Carole, spent a little time on his boat, Freedom, and Crist called Gov.-elect Rick Scott to congratulate him. He also called Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink to congratulate her on a strong campaign.
In a phone interview with the Times, Crist said his only immediate focus is his current job.
"The next thing for me is to finish strong these next 60 or so days as governor," he said. "It's the greatest honor and privilege of my life to serve the people in this state I love."
But friends, acquaintances, observers and even ardent critics were already speculating about his future. Among the suggestions: a book and speaker circuit about the perils of running as an independent; a teaching stint; an appointment in the Barack Obama administration, trying to highlight its bipartisanship; a rainmaker job, drumming up clients for lobbying or law firms.
The consensus is that Crist's political career is not over, just derailed for a bit.
"He is like the Jason character on Friday the 13th. You're never sure he's really dead and won't keep showing up again in bad sequels,'' said Republican consultant Ana Navarro, who falls into the category of Crist critic. "If I were Bill Young, I wouldn't stand on any high balconies with Crist."
Running for the Pinellas County congressional seat now occupied by 79-year-old Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, would be the most logical comeback for Crist.
In Tuesday's U.S. Senate contest, Crist beat Rubio in Pinellas, 42 percent to 40 percent, and could be formidable if Young retires in two years. But there are some hitches: Redistricting will probably make that swing district more Republican-leaning, and few observers see Crist having any shot trying for anything as a Republican.
"As far as running as a Republican, Charlie Crist has crossed that rubicon when he left the party,'' Pinellas state committeeman Tony DiMatteo said, referring to Crist's dropping out of the Republican Party and running as an independent.
Pinellas Democratic Chairman Ramsay McLauchlan doubted that Pinellas Democrats would endorse him either if Crist became a Democrat, especially after Crist opted not to take sides in the close governor's race between Sink and Scott.
"I would not ever vote for someone who could not decide between those two people — and it is a feeling that most Democrats share,'' he said. "I believe Charlie Crist is done in politics."
Former Democratic state House Speaker Peter Wallace of St. Petersburg doubts that.
"I would tell him to stay active, stay visible, stay close to home. Because I think his future is likelier to be successful in this community, rather than in the state as a whole, if he intends to stay in politics,'' said Wallace, speculating that Democrats would embrace Crist. "He has incredible political skills."
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, whom Crist unsuccessfully challenged in 1998, agreed that Crist has a political future, and he reached into history to show why.
In 1950, U.S. Sen. Claude Pepper was defeated in a divisive re-election bid in which he was accused of having far-left sympathies and for supporting universal health care. A decade later, Pepper returned as a congressman representing South Florida, and he served with distinction until his death in 1989.
"Charlie's got a lot of political skills and ability," Graham said. "Like so many people, he just got caught in a wave that he didn't appreciate was coming. It overwhelmed him."
Crist said he expects to remain in St. Petersburg, though his wife has a home in Miami and travels often to New York. The Crists became engaged in 2008 when Crist was a national GOP star, and on Monday a reporter asked the governor whether he worried about how a loss would affect his marriage.
"I'd be worried if I was still in high school and I lost an election for student class president," Crist said. "This isn't that. It'll be fine."
Crist's father had advised him to run for re-election as governor rather than for the Senate, but Crist said Wednesday he has no regrets.
"I'm proud of the campaign we ran,'' he said, dismissing talk of his political future.
"It's the last thing I'm thinking about right now," he said. "My public service has meant the world to me, and it's been a joy to serve."
Times staff writers Alex Leary and Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.