TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday he is considering an independent Florida Senate bid despite growing pressure from top Republicans to drop out of the race if he thinks he can't win a GOP primary.
Mr. Crist told the Associated Press in a phone interview that he wants to listen to Florida residents as he makes up his mind whether to stay in a Republican primary against Marco Rubio or run without party affiliation.
"I want to be very, very thoughtful and deliberate," Mr. Crist said. "I want to listen to the people and do what I think is in the best interest of Florida."
His comments came after the executive director of a national group that helps Republicans get elected to the Senate e-mailed consultants and said he thought there was "zero chance" Mr. Crist would stay in the GOP primary.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigning with Mr. Rubio in Tampa on Monday, said Mr. Crist should either stay in the primary or drop out of the race altogether.
A recent poll showed Mr. Crist is trailing Mr. Rubio badly in the primary, but could win a three-way race with him and likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
"If Governor Crist believes he cannot win a primary, then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day," Rob Jesmer of the National Republican Senatorial Committee wrote in his e-mail.
It's the latest sign of how far Mr. Crist's campaign has fallen in less than a year. Last May, NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, endorsed Mr. Crist immediately after he entered the race against Mr. Rubio, a former state House speaker.
Mr. Jesmer said Mr. Cornyn has tried calling Mr. Crist to convey the message that he should drop out if he thinks he can't win the primary, but Mr. Crist didn't return the call. Mr. Jesmer also told the consultants that if Mr. Crist runs as an independent candidate, "we will support Marco Rubio in any way possible."
"If any of you have influence with Governor Crist, we hope you will call his campaign and encourage him to do the right thing," Mr. Jesmer wrote.
Mr. Crist said he planned to return Mr. Cornyn's call, but that it's Floridians who will influence him.
"I care what my fellow Floridians think and what their thoughts are much more than anybody from Washington," Mr. Crist said.
He must decide by April 30 if he will remain in the Republican primary or take his chances in the general election without a party. He cannot switch after the primary.
A year ago, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Mr. Crist ahead of Mr. Rubio by 46 percentage points. Last week, the same poll showed Mr. Rubio ahead by 23 percentage points. Mr. Meek is the leading Democrat in the race.
Mr. Crist, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Meek are running to fill the seat held by George LeMieux, Mr. Crist's former chief of staff. Mr. Crist appointed him after Mel Martinez resigned before completing his first term, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.