Gov. Charlie Crist is spending the weekend at one of his favorite places: his wife Carole's house on Miami's exclusive Fisher Island.
His all-time favorite place, of course, is at the center of the political and media universe, and he's there, too.
By extending the guessing game about his future, Crist owns this news cycle, and the next and the one after that, as he ponders whether to run for the U.S. Senate as an unaffiliated or independent candidate. By dangling himself as a middle-ground alternative to Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek, Crist is drawing more attention than he ever could otherwise.
The first clue of Crist's thinking surfaced nine days ago. Shortly after he vetoed the teacher merit pay bill known as Senate Bill 6, Crist faced an enthusiastic crowd of students and teachers at a "veto rally" at Leon High School in Tallahassee and said what sounds like the logical theme of an outsider-style campaign.
"The people spoke, and they spoke loudly," he said. "It is the power of people over politics."
People over politics. Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate.
Sounds good, but not for a minute does anyone believe that political considerations didn't figure prominently in his veto of the pay bill. It's important to remember that for Crist, the political calculus is always a vital element, even though in this case, a veto was forced by an unpredictable and ferocious level of public opposition.
Everywhere Crist goes, people grab his hand and thank him for vetoing the bill in an endless series of furtive, happy encounters that give Crist strength. The statewide teachers union on Monday will launch a statewide TV ad that shows the happy faces of students and parents thanking Crist for "doing the right thing."
Crist would be targeting the political center: not just independents, but partisan voters with little enthusiasm for Rubio or Meek. He doesn't need a majority to win, only one more vote than the next candidate. The GOP governor fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan appears to be on the verge of abandoning his political party as a means of preserving and prolonging his political career.
Still, Crist is one step away from a perilous path. He faces fundraising challenges and a likely shakeup of his campaign staff. He'll be called disloyal, a traitor, an opportunist.
If he runs as an NPA candidate of no party affiliation, will voters see him as the refreshing third option they've been waiting for, or as a typical politician who will do anything to survive?
Some close friends have urged Crist to drop out and remain a loyal Republican, quickly and enthusiastically endorse Rubio, stockpile his campaign money, finish his term as governor and focus on defeating Democrat Bill Nelson in 2012. Crist has little enthusiasm for this, which political insiders call "rehab."
It would be a capitulation to Rubio who, despite strong poll numbers, has never run statewide and whose tax records are being freshly scrutinized by the IRS. Just as important, it would be a surrender to Rubio's mentor and role model, former Gov. Jeb Bush, which is something Crist has no intention of doing.
But if he runs as an independent and loses, his career will likely be over at age 54.
Reporters asked how Crist can explain such a dramatic shift after saying so many times he planned to run as a Republican.
"Things change," Crist said.
A footnote: By law, unaffiliated candidates are listed last on the ballot, in alphabetical order, after major and minor party candidates. That ensures that Crist would appear no higher than fifth on the November ballot, behind (in order) Rubio, Meek, Libertarian Alexander Snitker and another unaffiliated candidate, Sue Askeland of Stuart.
But Crist is no afterthought in politics. He's the center of attention at the moment, and the likelihood is he will run as the Senate candidate of the center.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.