The nation’s largest swing state boasts a time-honored tradition: run to the right to win the Republican primary, to the left to win the Democratic primary — then race to the middle for the general election. But with Gov. Charlie Crist expected to announce Thursday in St. Petersburg that he will run as an independent candidate for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat, the script is changing.Crist’s nonpartisan bid would allow him to forego an anticipated thrashing by former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP primary and pave the way for a potentially competitive three-way contest against Rubio as the likely GOP nominee and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami as the likely Democrat. That means Florida’s next senator could be elected Nov. 2 with as little as 34 percent of the vote, upending the usual quest for mass appeal in an increasingly diverse state of 11 million voters.
“In a tight, three-way race, there’s a bigger premium on making sure you are targeting your supporters and getting them to polls, as opposed to persuading voters,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown, whose recent survey found Crist slightly ahead of the pack if he ran as an independent and Rubio in second place. “When you don’t need a majority, when a plurality is what matters, there’s a smaller target.”