With Which Party Would Crist Caucus?

[ Posted Thursday, April 29th, 2010 – 17:54 UTC ]

Charlie Crist just made the Florida Senate race a whole lot more interesting, by announcing he will run as an independent candidate, making it a real three-way race. This will make the election more interesting for political reporters, because it's always more fun to cover a three-horse race than a two-horse race (as it were). But the most interesting question to me is what happens if Crist actually wins and goes to the Senate -- with which party would he caucus?

Now, this assumes a lot of things which may not happen, I fully admit. But assuming Crist does win the election, he'll enter the Senate as an Independent, meaning he can choose which party he will caucus with. And if the election itself proves to be as brutal as it is shaping up to be, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Crist may be so despised by Republicans (and vice versa) that he would consider caucusing with the Democrats. Crist is a fairly moderate Republican, and if he joined the Senate Democrats, he'd likely be called a "Blue Dog" Democrat, since he'd be more conservative than most Democrats.

In the next few days, a lot of parallels will be drawn between Crist's race and the way Joe Lieberman last got elected. Lieberman was challenged from his left, Crist from his right. They both saw the Independent route as viable, and jettisoning their party affiliation as the only way to win the general election, by capturing the moderate middle-of-the-road voters. And they both paid a heavy political price over a photo of them embracing a president of the other party, Crist by appearing onstage (and hugging) Barack Obama, and Lieberman's infamous "kiss" of George W. Bush. Both men inspire seething rage from party regulars for their Independent bid. As I said, there's a lot of these parallels to dig up and trot out.

But the more interesting thing to me is how the two are different. Lieberman, for one, had a lot of support from big Democrats (who knew he'd likely win). The Democratic candidate facing Lieberman didn't get a lot of party support, or a lot of big endorsements -- again, because the safe money was on Lieberman getting re-elected. Crist will have very little such support. The party has already embraced his challenger, Marco Rubio, and this support will become almost unanimous from Republican politicians now. Very few Republican officeholders will continue to support Crist. Plus, pretty much his whole campaign staff just quit, because they would like to work on future Republican campaigns and know they'll be shunned by the party if they stay loyal to Crist.

The second big difference between the two is that Lieberman was already in the Senate, and just running for re-election. Crist is Florida's governor, and will be a freshman senator if elected. What this means is Crist doesn't have any committee assignments currently, since he's not in the Senate yet. So he will be asking for choice committee assignments from whichever party he decides to caucus with. And it's easy to see that Republicans may bear him a grudge when he gets there, and be fairly stingy with what they offer him, committee-wise. Democrats may be more open to giving him a seat on a committee of his liking, one that has more prestige and power than whatever the Republicans offer him. While both parties would have a vested interest in having Crist caucus with them, to boost their overall numbers, Democrats may be more determined to snag Crist, especially if they lose seats overall (as everyone is predicting). Having Crist in their caucus is one more seat they didn't lose, in other words.

Of course, as I said, this is all idle speculation. There's no guarantee Crist is going to win. The race is fairly even, meaning any of the three candidates could walk away a winner. And if all three of them do roughly as good as their polls indicate, whoever wins may only have to get around 35 percent of the vote to do so. Meaning the whole thing is really up in the air. Crist's lack of support from the Republican Party (and, more importantly, party donors) may cripple his chances to run an effective campaign in Florida's expensive media markets. Rubio could stumble along the campaign trail, as well. The Democrat in the race, Kendrick Meek, could benefit from a split vote among normal Republican voters, and walk away with the race. The field truly is wide open at this point.

Crist's move was pretty predictable, to anyone who can read a poll. Crist had virtually no chance to win the Republican primary, but his chances improved dramatically when pitted against the other two in a three-way polling question. And tomorrow is the deadline to file as an Independent in the race, so lots of folks saw this one coming.

Rubio's embrace of the Tea Party will fuel lots of speculation as well, over the relative influence the movement has within the Republican Party. I will actually find it a lot more interesting to see what happens when a Tea Party candidate either loses a primary to a mainstream Republican candidate, or sees that they're going to lose (as Crist did) -- will the Tea Partier at that point go the Independent route? Such a third-party challenge may be much better news to Democratic candidates than what is happening in Florida, because the "spoiler" effect would be so much greater.

Crist, if the polls are right, has a decent shot at winning the general election this November, and arriving in Washington with an "I" next to his name, rather than an "R." Meaning he'd get to choose which team to huddle with. While in normal times, you'd naturally expect him to return to the embrace of the Republican Party, these are not exactly normal times. Republicans, to be blunt, are not in a forgiving mood right now. But then, this was also true with Lieberman, and he was still given all his seniority rights and committee chairs by Democrats after he won his race. It is conceivable that the Senate Republicans are much more concerned about boosting their own numbers than they are about the backlash from the party base they might get by welcoming Crist back into their ranks after a bruising political fight. But Crist, a moderate to begin with, might actually decide when he gets to Washington (if he does, of course) that he'll stay an "I," but caucus as a "D." Stranger things have happened.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “With Which Party Would Crist Caucus?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Being a Floridian (actually a transplanted San Diegoian, but why open THAT can o worms.. :D) I have followed the race with some interest..

    But, as I mentioned in a previous comment, I haven't seen any Tea Party influence in the race.

    At least none that has been written locally...

    Do you have any references for me??


  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Even if he caucuses with the Republicans, Crist has impressed me enough for me to support him for senate. The politically safe route for him would have been to sign SB6, bow out of the primary, then wait a couple years and run for Bill Nelson's seat. I do not know whether his motives were selfish, unselfish or otherwise, but he took a big political risk in vetoing bad (and unpopular) legislation, which would have harmed me directly. so, party affiliation notwithstanding, I have a personal interest in seeing him elected.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    so, party affiliation notwithstanding, I have a personal interest in seeing him elected.

    "Now, that's what I'm talking about!!
    -Will Smith, MEN IN BLACK



  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    OK, since you live there and since your opinion seems to be at odds with others I've heard, let me ask you...

    Do you think Marco Rubio's Tea Party support is:

    (a) a total creation of the media, and he's just a run-of-the-mill conservative Republican,

    (b) way overrated,

    (c) just Rubio sucking up to a certain demographic, because he's not a "real" Tea Partier, but rather a sort of carpetbagger to the cause,

    (d) the reason why he killed Crist in the polling?

    I'm truly interested, because I've heard flavors of all of these from other Floridians, and can't really decide what to believe about him. So how does Rubio look, from your front porch?

    I've actually been interested in Rubio for a long time here, do a search to see my initial article about him and what he means in the FL race (OK, I am too lazy to paste in the link, I fully admit).

    Oh, and just out of curiousity, who do you support in the race? And who do you think is going to win the general election? I can't even guess, at this point.

    nypoet22 -

    I was very surprised at his veto, but after it happened, was not in the least surprised over his announcement to run as an Indy. He does indeed seem to be that rare politician who puts the interests of his constituents in front of his own political ambitions. That veto was a brave thing to do, I have to admit.


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    I must, abashedly, admit ignorance in this particular race...

    As I mentioned previously, I have not read any Tea Party connections with any of the FL candidates.

    I do like the job that Crist has done as governor, which makes me lean towards him. Also, ANYONE with an 'I' next to their name is a kindred spirit, so THAT is a plus in his favor as well..

    But, as you may have noticed, I have taken a cynical turn since the last election, so I can't help but think that Crist just went 'I' for political survival, rather than any real zest for being an Independent.

    My gut has me leaning towards Crist too, because Rubio comes across as just too "slick"...

    "Listen, I'm a politician which means I'm a cheat and a liar, and when I'm not kissing babies I'm stealing their lollipops."
    -Jeffery Pelt, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER

    So, to answer your question, while I think they are both slimy politicians, my gut tells me that Crist is less of one...

    Meek, on the other hand is a cop, so he is more of a kindred spirit than the other two...

    I could easily see myself voting for him...

    So, for me particularly, it is definitely a 3-way race, with Meek actually out in front...


  6. [6] 
    dsws wrote:

    Gee, Rubio hasn't already been elected? (Except by the MSM, of course.)

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