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Crist reportedly to leave GOP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, headed for defeat in the Republican Senate primary, intends to bolt the party and run as an independent, three confidants said Wednesday, setting up an unpredictable three-way race for a seat that once seemed his to lose.

Crist’s expected announcement would clear the way for conservative Marco Rubio to claim the GOP nomination in the state’s Aug. 24 primary. Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek is all but certain to win his party’s nomination.

Crist, considered a rising Republican star not long ago, will announce his plans today in his hometown of St. Petersburg. The confidants who conveyed word of his decision all said they had spoken directly with Crist. One cautioned, however, that the governor can be unpredictable.

The Senate campaign has drawn national attention largely because of Rubio’s rise, fueled in part by support from tea party activists.

Crist’s demise as a Republican was sudden and unexpected. Less than two years ago, rival contenders vied for his endorsement in the state’s presidential primary. Then, in February 2009, he hugged President Barack Obama at an event to promote the $787 billion federal stimulus plan, helping to crystallize opposition.