Florida Gov. Charlie Crist provided a sigh of relief to a national beleaguered Republican Party.
By announcing that he will be a candidate for the Senate seat abandoned by retiring Sen. Mel Martinez, Crist essentially keeps it in the hands of the GOP. Finally bouncing back from the 2000 presidential debacle, Democrats are somewhat resurgent in the Sunshine State. Obama won there last year and he remains popular. If Crist hadn't run, the GOP would have had a fierce fight on its hands. Even if they won, the amount of money that the party would have had to put into the race would have taken important resources away from other contests. (Even though Crist will likely have a conservative primary challenger, most of the party will line up behind the governor.)
Conversely, while the Democrats will field a candidate, this is hardly going to be a major focus for them. Instead the fierce fight will now be on the gubernatorial side. An open governor's seat will have both parties jumping in with all gusto. The 2010 races are especially important: After next year's census, the states -- the governors and the legislatures -- redraw congressional and legislative district lines. That action shapes party advantage in the Congress for years. In short, the winner of the Florida governor's race might help guarantee his party one or two House seat for the next decade.
Ironically, though, as Crist comes to his party's rescue on the Senate side, he actually draws attention to its ideological fissures: He's a *gasp* moderate! He was on the vice-presidential short list of Sen. John McCain (who Rush Limbaugh says should leave the party with Arlen Specter). Not only did he happily take all Florida's allotted federal stimulus money (unlike Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, South Carolina's Mark Sanford and others), he did pseudo-campaign events with a visiting Obama! Governors have different priorities than senators, but one might assume that a Sen. Crist might well have voted like sitting moderates Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and now-former GOPer Specter in supporting the stimulus package.
After former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the party doesn't need to "moderate" its message, the closest thing to a sure thing that Republicans have in next year's mid-term elections turns out to be a moderate candidate. Funny how things work out.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.