By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TAMPA, Fla., Nov. 3, 2010……….If Gov. Charlie Crist had announced on April 29 that he was running as Democrat rather than an independent, the results of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate election might have been different.
Some Democrats were willing to vote for Crist, but he didn’t have the benefits of the party’s organization or money, some observers said after Crist ended, at least for now, his political career by coming in second in the Senate race.
Whether Crist would have beaten Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene in a primary is another story, but Democratic state Rep. Joe Gibbons said the governor could have won that race, noting he’s always been popular with Democrats.
“He’s a populist governor. He stayed in the middle,” said Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, who endorsed Meek. “Look at a lot of the positions he took: those were (Democrats’) positions in the Legislature. The things he did got him ran out of his own party.”
As it was, Crist and Meek split at least some Democratic votes, handing victory to Republican Marco Rubio.
Election returns and late polling in the Senate race appeared to back Gibbons’ assessment up. Combined, Crist and Meek got 2,660,973 votes, slightly more than Rubio’s 2,613,877. In Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University’s final survey of the race Monday, Crist beat Meek among Democrats 47 percent to 42.
Facing a headwind in Rubio, Crist turned increasingly to Democrats in the final days of the campaign. Running a campaign schedule that could have easily been gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink’s, Crist stumped at black churches and served as the marshal of the homecoming parade at Florida A&M, a historically black university in the capital city.
Crist also hit the Democratic Party’s favorite talking points on the stump, railing against Rubio over abortion rights and social security. He even used President Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan when he was asked whether he can win: “Yes, We Can.”
State Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, a staunch Meek supporter, said it was tough to tell if Crist could have beaten Meek in a closed Democratic primary, arguing it would not have been easy.
“We never would have thought the governor would have been in trouble in the first place,” said Hill. “When he first announced, he was unbeatable,” Hill concluded.
Hill said Meek’s attacks on Crist’s recent conversions to Democratic policy positions would have resonated better with an entirely Democratic electorate in a primary than it appeared to Tuesday night.
“He was so all over the map, you didn’t know where Charlie was,” Hill said. “One minute he supported the stimulus, one minute he didn’t. One minute he didn’t know the president was in Florida, one minute he did.”
But Hill conceded Crist “did pull 29 percent (of the final vote) though, so somebody knew something.”
One of Crist’s few remaining Republican allies in the Legislature, Sen. Mike Fasano, said hindsight was always 20-20 in politics.
“The governor did what he did because he believed it was the right thing to do and I supported him because I believed in him,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, told the News Service Wednesday. “I would never second-guess the governor nor second-guess his decisions. We could all come up with what ifs. We’d be here to Christmas.”
Fasano said Crist has not given him any indication if he might run for office again in the future, or in what party, if any. Crist hasn’t said publicly what he plans to do now.