Florida Gov. Charlie Crist says he has no regrets about quitting the Republican Party, despite his decisive defeat on Tuesday.
In a phone interview with The Hill, Crist said he is proud of his Senate campaign and doesn’t regret his decision to challenge former Florida House Speaker Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (R) as an independent candidate.
The decision to bolt the GOP initially moved Crist past Rubio in the polls. That lead quickly eroded, however, and on Tuesday, Rubio crushed Crist and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) with 49 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for Crist and 20 percent for Meek.
“I’m very proud of the campaign we ran, even if I’m disappointed at the outcome,” Crist said. “The last thing I am ever is bitter. I’m just not made that way or wired like that. I’m grateful to the people of my state for the honor of serving them. … I’m the opposite of bitter.”
Crist will leave the governor’s mansion in January after nearly 20 years in the Florida government. He was elected a state senator in 1992, state education commissioner in 2000, attorney general in 2002 and governor in 2006.
Crist said he hasn’t decided on his future and will wait to “evaluate” his next career move in January. He was a lawyer before entering politics, but won’t say if he is leaning toward a return to the private sector.
If Crist opted to stay in politics, he could mount a challenge to veteran lawmaker Rep. Bill Young (R), who has served in the House since 1970. Young represents Pinellas County, Crist’s home base; the governor won the county narrowly over Rubio on Tuesday.
Crist has also been floated in Washington circles as a possible appointment to the Obama administration, though the White House has not indicated that is being considered.
The Florida Senate campaign had some drama in the final weekend when Crist, former President Clinton and the Obama administration all tried to pressure Meek to drop out and throw his support to Crist. Meek refused.
Crist said the attempt “was a chance to come together and get some commonsense reforms done.”
Crist consistently refused to say during the campaign which party he intended to caucus with if elected to the Senate. Asked now what he would have decided had he won, Crist still wouldn’t say.
“I would have asked tough questions about employment opportunities for Florida, the economy, who would help us with the national catastrophic [hurricane insurance] fund, then make the decision thereafter,” he said. “It would have depended on the answers to those questions.”
Asked if his overture to Democratic heavyweights is a signal he was leaning toward becoming a Democrat, Crist said no.
“I wouldn’t make that assumption,” he said. “Had I won, I would have asked tough questions and seen who gave the best answers.”
For now, Crist said he is busy preparing for a mid-November organizational session for the Legislature and helping the state’s governor-elect, Republican Rick Scott, transition into office.
“Most immediately, I’ve got two months left as governor and I want to finish strong and do the best I can for the people of the state I love,” Crist said. “The future is the last thing I’m thinking of right now. … The future will take care of itself. I haven’t focused on it, to be perfectly candid. You know, you put all your energy and your heart into a campaign effort, and that just ended 48 hours ago.”
Crist said he has no hard feelings toward Rubio, despite having several testy exchanges with him during debates. He said he called Rubio on Tuesday night to wish him well.
“I’m very proud of him and his future,” Crist said of Rubio. “And Rick Scott too.”