- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 2, 2010

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Sunday said that “primary fear” stirred up from the right wing of the Republican Party led him to withdraw from the GOP Senate primary last week and run as an independent.

The career Republican said it had become apparent in recent weeks that conservatives had rejected his moderate views and would deny the broader Florida electorate the opportunity to consider his candidacy for the U.S. Senate unless he broke from the party.

“I would emphasize that those are primary Republican voters. It’s very different from the November Republican,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“What’s happened in our country is a lot of primary fear,” the governor added. “I see people in Washington in the House or the Senate, and they’re so concerned about being faced or challenged in a primary that they can’t speak their true sense, their free will. They feel kind of shackled, if you will, by what the primary voters might do.”

The once-popular Mr. Crist, who just a year ago was considered a shoo-in to win his party’s primary and the probable winner in November’s general election, is fighting for his political life. His support among Republicans began to erode almost immediately after the conservative Marco Rubio entered the race about a year ago.

Mr. Crist in recent months has fallen significantly behind Mr. Rubio in polls for the open Senate seat. Recent surveys suggest Mr. Rubio still would defeat the governor and Democratic Rep. Kendrick B. Meek in a three-way race, though the margin is much tighter.

Mr. Rubio, 38, a lawyer and former Florida House speaker, said Sunday that Mr. Crist’s decision to shun his party showed that he is more concerned about his political self-preservation than about the people of Florida.

“You’re never going to be able to hold him accountable to anything because his opinions are going to change based upon what polling tells him and what his political convenience tells him,” Mr. Rubio said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Rubio, a Miami native whose parents immigrated to the state from Cuba, has been hailed by many Florida Republicans as a better representative of the party’s core values than the governor. But he will have a tough challenge attracting independents and Democrats, a skill that has propelled Mr. Crist throughout a successful political career in the Sunshine State.

Mr. Crist sidestepped the question of whether he would caucus with Republicans if he won the election.

“I will caucus with the people of Florida,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

When pressed by show moderator David Gregory that such a position would be almost politically impossible, Mr. Crist responded that “you have to go with your gut and your heart.”

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