Gov. Charlie Crist personally renounced the Republican Party Wednesday, making over his voter registration to "no party affiliation" to match his remodeled U.S. Senate bid and spurning any requests from donors who want their money back.
No law requires Crist to return money to disenchanted donors, but the GOP and prominent supporters of his Republican rival, Marco Rubio, have been heckling him to do so.
Crist has $7.6 million in the bank, compared to Rubio with $3.9 million and Democratic front-runner Kendrick Meek with $3.7 million.
"People gave to a good cause, and we're going to spend it on a good cause," Crist said in the elections office in his hometown of St. Petersburg. "That's why I'm going to keep it. It's important to be able to get our message out and communicate with the people of Florida."
In another reality check for a governor once considered a potential GOP vice presidential contender, Crist's party switch fell on the same day Tampa was picked to host the 2012 Republican National Convention.
"Whether it was a Republican convention or a Democratic convention it wouldn't matter to me," Crist said. "As a Floridian, I'm proud it's in our state."
Crist had said he would "probably" give refunds in an April 30 interview with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough the day after he announced he would bow out of the GOP primary. But on Wednesday just a couple hours before Crist officially changed his voter registration, campaign spokeswoman Michelle Todd said there will be no refunds.
"We have never made an official statement before," she said. "It is now the official statement. They donated to the Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate campaign and it's still the Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate campaign."
Republican Party leaders, along with the Rubio campaign, howled at Crist for flip-flopping on refund requests from donors.
"As Charlie Crist continually reinvents himself to do/say/be anything to win an election, he is now going back on his word to Floridians," the campaign said. "It seems that Charlie Crist is only willing to listen to the people if they don't want a refund from his campaign."
Said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee: "Breaking this promise demonstrates an enormous lack of character, as Floridians are reminded that they simply cannot trust what you say."
The Republican Party of Florida, which has turned against its former standard bearer, announced Wednesday that it had sold a portrait of Crist from its headquarters for $7,700 on eBay. The party had spent $7,500 on portraits of Crist and his handpicked chairman, Jim Greer, who was ousted in February amid allegations of reckless spending.
The specter of the sitting governor of the fourth-largest state and lifelong Republican running as an independent is creating unexpected undercurrents as his campaign rivals try to shore up support in their own parties.
Rubio has been scoffing at Crist's conservative credentials for months and tarring him as a conspirator with the Democratic administration. In contrast, Democratic front-runner Meek is rereleasing past statements in which Crist emphasized his commitment to the Republican Party.
"Republican Gov. Charlie Crist wants to escape his conservative record, but the record won't escape him," said Meek spokesman Adam Sharon.
Meek appears to be guarding against Crist peeling off his natural supporters, with a recent Mason-Dixon poll showing the governor more popular than him among Democratic voters.
Times/Herald staff writers John Frank and Adam C. Smith and Times researcher Constance Humburg contributed to this report. Beth Reinhard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.