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Charlie Crist's Choice

10:48 AM, Apr 14, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The Wall Street Journal reports:

Florida law doesn't give Mr. Crist the flexibility that enabled Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to win election in 2006 as a third-party candidate after losing the Democratic primary. Mr. Crist must decide by April 30 whether to seek the Republican nomination or to appear instead on the general-election ballot with no party affiliation.

An important sign of Mr. Crist's aims could come this week: He must decide by Friday whether to veto a teacher merit-pay bill supported by prominent conservatives in the party.

"If you were to put a gun to my head, I'd say he's running as an independent," said a GOP strategist who serves as an informal adviser to the governor.

Charlie Crist is losing the Republican primary by 30 points. He is losing a three-way race by 20 points. Does he really want to make a career-ending run as an independent?

As I wrote the other day, Crist's third option would be to pull out of the race and live to run as a Republican another day. A reader emailed to point out that although Crist can't beat Rubio by spending the massive $7.5 million war chest he's built up--or even twice that much--he can keep almost all of it if he opts for a 2012 run:

Now, Crist just reported taking in only $1.1 million in Q1, as a sitting governor with the legislature was in session.  It’s clear he’s close to being tapped out.  Barring some major Rubio blow-up, this is the high water mark for Crist's campaign financing.  Starting now, with the momentum all the other way and the legislative session done (and the lobbyists out of his control), he'll be spending as much or more than he takes in, millions of dollars, almost certainly in a losing effort.

But if he quits, he can keep almost all of it.  He could make a point of maxing out to Rubio himself, and also of returning (as law would require) general election contributions to his donors and encouraging them to send the money to Rubio instead.

All of a sudden, he's the rainmaker.  He can convert some of the cash into a PAC, rebuild his goodwill among the state's party faithful, all while maintaining a daunting war chest to hold over potential rivals whenever he decides to run again.

If he takes Option 1 or 2 [running in the GOP primary or as an independent], he's cooked.  If he takes Option 3 [running in the future], overnight he’s a heavyweight again.  He can beg off, saying the state economy needs his full attention.  As the economy improves, he’ll get credit for getting things moving again.  He can campaign hard for McCollum and Rubio, improving relationships, consolidating the party for the midterms, etc.  Meanwhile nobody will bother beating him up anymore, so his reputation would have time to heal.  It would be a brilliant stroke, and would cost him nothing, as he can’t win anyway.

I dont know about you, but that sounds a lot better than losing by 30 points in the primary or losing by 20 points as an independent, and becoming a pariah in the process.

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