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What Charlie Crist's indie bid says about GOP – and Crist himself

Gov. Charlie Crist suddenly appears competitive as a political independent in his Senate race. Was his departure from the GOP a sign of turmoil in the party, or are there other factors at play?

By Staff writer / May 1, 2010

Gov. Charlie Crist, left, greets a supporter after he announced he will run as an independent candidate in his bid for the U.S. Senate during a rally in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. on Thursday, April 29.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/ AP

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Washington

It’s tempting to see the story of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s departure from the Republican Party as a sign of the times – that the GOP tent is shrinking as the conservative tea-party wing gains momentum.

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And certainly, there’s evidence to support that argument: Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona suddenly denies he’s a maverick and backs away from his advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform in the face of a primary challenge from the right. A year ago, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched from R to D when it became clear that his right-wing Republican primary challenger could beat him. Last fall, moderate Republican New York state legislator Dede Scozzafava ended up quitting her congressional race altogether, after the tea-party movement shunned her and rallied around the third-party Conservative candidate.

But there are also signs that the next Senate could wind up with more moderate Republicans than are in the current Senate. Rep. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois has an excellent shot at winning President Obama’s old seat. Rep. Michael Castle (R) of Delaware is strongly favored to win Vice President Biden’s old seat. Newly minted Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts, who captured the late Edward Kennedy’s seat, has emerged as a classic Northeastern Rockefeller Republican.

IN PICTURES: Famous political party switches

So in some instances, at least, the GOP appears to have learned the lesson that it can be smart to recruit candidates with broad appeal, even when they are less than pure ideologically.

All this leads back to the question of Governor Crist, who now suddenly appears competitive as a political independent in his Senate race. Was his departure from the GOP a sign of turmoil in the party, or are there other factors at play?

“I think it’s more about Crist, and it’s more about the anti-incumbent mood at the moment, which is pervasive,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, Tampa.

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