- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is reportedly set to announce his plans to run for the Senate next year, giving the Republicans their best shot at holding the seat now held by retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez.

GOP Chairman Jim Greer told a local Florida newspaper that the governor plans to make the official announcement Tuesday in Tallahassee. The first-term moderate Republican wins strong approval ratings in the state from voters of both parties and is considered by pollsters the instant front-runner.

Democrats had been eyeing the Florida Senate seat as a prime pick-up candidate in 2010 in the party’s drive for a 60-plus vote filibuster-proof majority after Mr. Martinez announced plans to step down. Democrats now control 59 seats with one still-contested seat in Minnesota.

The Crist decision was not unexpected, although the governor refused to make an official announcement on his plans while the state legislature was in session. National Republican officials had wooed him to get into the race.

“I think Charlie Crist will be the next U.S. senator,” state GOP Chairman Jim Greer told the Pensacola News Journal in an interview posted on the party’s Web site Sunday evening.

But several question marks still hang over the race, which could be one of the most expensive and hotly contested of the 2010 cycle.

On the Republican side, a primary battle is developing as former House Speaker Marco Rubio announced last week he would run for the Senate seat. At least three other Republicans, including former Rep. Bill McCollum, have expressed an interest in the race, although some of the challengers may now switch to the governor’s race.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami and state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach have both launched bids for the Senate seat.

Officials of both parties are closely watching Democratic state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. The state’s most popular Democrat, she has been widely seen as a possible senatorial candidate, but she reportedly told a group of fund-raisers recently she would run for governor if Mr. Crist did not seek a second term.

This would be Mr. Crist’s second try for a Senate seat. He lost to Democratic incumbent Bob Graham in 1998.

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