ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Former GOP darling Gov. Charlie Crist defected from the Republican Party on Thursday to run as an independent for U.S. Senate after months of being ripped by conservatives as too supportive of President Barack Obama.
“I don’t have either party helping me. But I need you. I need you more than ever,” the governor said, surrounded by supporters carrying signs that included “Democrats for Crist.”
Crist was the heavy favorite last year and was even among the Republican names bandied about in the 2012 presidential race. But the primary campaign quickly became a lost cause as the tea party movement embraced another candidate, Marco Rubio, and held up the governor’s literal embrace of Obama last year as evidence that Crist was too liberal.
He said he felt liberated. Asked why, he said, “Because I only belong to the people and that’s a wonderful place to be. That’s what it’s all about.”
Leaving the Republicans means it will be tougher for Crist to raise money and he’ll lose nearly all his campaign staff.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he will ask Crist’s campaign to return the $10,000 he donated when he recruited the governor to run for the Senate in 2009. Crist is not required to return the money.