Crist learns the downside of a third-party bid in Florida

Holly Bailey

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has talked up his independent run for Senate as a "freeing" experience, telling voters that since he left the GOP this spring,  he's no longer a slave to either political party. But with less than two months before Election Day, Crist is starting to experience the downsides of running a third-party bid in one of the most closely watched races in the country.

For one, Crist will no longer be near the top of the ballot when voters head to the polls 47 days from now. As the St. Petersburg Times' Adam Smith reports, Crist will be listed ninth out of a field of 10 candidates on the Senate ballot this year. Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek, his top rivals, will be near the top of the ballot. "It's an issue, obviously," a disappointed Crist said yesterday.

Another downside: Crist doesn't have any political party or like-minded outside group willing to spend cash on his behalf. That means Crist is all on his own when it comes to advocating his candidacy and defending himself against attacks — an expensive, multi-front challenge in Crist's case. Not only are Rubio and Meek focusing more on Crist than they are on each other, but the Florida governor is also under fire from independent groups working to elect Republicans, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

On Tuesday, the Chamber launched a TV ad attacking Crist as a "flip-flopper," on issues including President Obama's health care bill. (Crist opposed it but now supports it.) The spot likens him to another party-switcher, Sen. Arlen Specter — and for good measure summons up Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, whose 2004 presidential campaign was wounded when he claimed to have "voted for" a war-funding package "before I voted against it."  You can watch the Chamber ad here:

The bad news for Crist: The combined attacks against his campaign are working. Echoing other polls, a new Reuters/Ipsos survey finds Rubio now leading the race by 16 points among likely voters, 40 percent to Crist's 26 percent, with Meek bringing up the rear at 21 percent. Among "registered voters," Rubio's lead narrows to just three points, 32 percent to Crist's 29 percent. Why such a big difference between "likely" and "registered" voters? The people willing to support Rubio are far more enthusiastic about the campaign than voters willing to turn out for Crist or Meek — and that bodes well for Republicans in November.

(Photo of Crist by Lynne Sladsky/AP)