Now that it looks like Florida Governor Charlie Crist might run for the US Senate seat as an independent, and that he has a decent chance of winning, we might think for a moment about what kind of Senator he could be.
If Crist gets in the race as an Indy, expect the punditocracy to compare him to Joe Lieberman, and predict that if elected he would caucus with the Republicans. But there is one huge difference in the two cases.
When Lieberman was challenged from the left, every Democratic officeholder backed him in the primary. Barack Obama came to Connecticut to campaign for him. Chris Dodd endorsed him (this was before the financial meltdown and such an endorsement might have been worth something). Only after Holy Joe lost the primary did Democrats turn to Ned Lamont, the party’s official winner.
Contrast this with Florida: there, Republicans are fleeing to wingnut Marco Rubio’s campaign well before the primary. That tells you — and it should tell Crist — a hell of a lot about his Republican friends. And it should also give him pause about caucusing with the GOP if he wins the race.
There is one other important difference that militates against my argument: Lieberman was an incumbent Senator, and Crist of course is not. But I don’t see that as particularly relevant here. Crist was recruited by national Republicans. He saved John McCain’s presidential campaign in the Florida primary — and was rewarded this week by attacks from Arizona’s senior senator. All his supposed friends went south on him as soon as it got tough; they didn’t even bother with neutrality. Once Crist takes the knife out of his back, he might consider whom he would be able to trust in the Senate — if he gets there.