Case for Crist party-switch

With 14 months until the Florida Republican Senate primary in 2010, popular Gov. Charlie Crist is riding high in the polls against his challenger, former state House Speaker Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioStudents gather outside White House after walkout to protest gun violence Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Senate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA MORE. But the current numbers are deceiving, and as counterintuitive as it might seem, Crist is likely the underdog.

You see, Crist is an anachronism in the modern GOP. He’s a moderate with a streak of social liberalism, which places him at odds with the conservative voters who will dominate the closed primary’s electorate. Crist’s strong support among Democrats and independents won’t help him with party regulars, while his centrist record will provide ample fodder for Rubio and his allies to decimate the governor’s standing with the right-wing base.

Crist fought his own party to expand the voting rights of convicted felons in Florida, and he ‘s been quoted as declaring, “Sometimes big business can be as bad as big government and become arrogant, sloth-like and detrimental,” flying directly in the face of his party’s business-can-do-no-wrong orthodoxy.

As a state senator, Crist voted against a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Today, he calls himself “pro-life,” yet refuses to consider additional restrictions on abortion and doesn’t think Roe v. Wade should be overturned — to the chagrin of actual conservatives.

On gay rights, Crist pulled his state party’s financial support for an anti-gay marriage initiative on the ballot, though he claimed he’d vote for it. He supports civil unions for same-sex couples. And when he was furnished with a list of all-white nominees for a state appellate court, he refused to consider filling the position until qualified African-Americans were added to the list.

Of all the arrows in Rubio’s jam-packed quiver, none is more potent than Crist’s enthusiastic support for President Obama’s stimulus bill. Democratic rebels seeking to depose Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary got great mileage from circulating an infamous picture of Lieberman and President Bush in a near-kiss. A near-perfect reproduction of that picture, featuring Obama and Crist, is already making the rounds among Florida conservatives.

Movement conservatives have turned on Crist with a vengeance, and supporting Rubio appears to be a top priority for national grassroots Republican leaders. While the party establishment has rallied around Crist, Rubio has earned the early endorsements of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Florida U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R). Former Arkansas governor and presidential contender Mike Huckabee has enthusiastically supported the young Florida insurgent (is that a package deal with Chuck Norris?), and the Club for Growth is gearing up to raise money for him. Fox News has handed Rubio a platform, and The Wall Street Journal editorial board has been busy savaging Crist. Meanwhile, conservative talk-radio hosts, both state and national, have spewed a steady stream of venom at Crist.

This is a war of attrition, and 14 months will be more than enough for the combined might of the conservative movement to grind Crist down. Republican primary voters aren’t interested in moderation or practicality, and Crist can’t deliver the ideological purity they demand. The poll numbers should tighten by the first quarter of 2010, and Crist seems likely to face the same dilemma that Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) wrestled with a short while ago — can he remain a Republican and win a primary?

The simple fact is that Crist would likely find a better home in the Democratic Party. In light of the May 2010 filing deadline, he still has some time to make an informed decision about which party best reflects his beliefs — and which party would best boost his electoral prospects.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos