The road ahead for Charlie Crist

THE ROAD AHEAD FOR CHARLIE CRIST…. There wasn’t much in the way of suspense at Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s event yesterday afternoon. He’d already made clear that he would abandon his Republican Senate bid and run as an independent — technically, “no party affiliation” on the ballot — and Crist did just that, in front of a lackluster crowd where the number of reporters rivaled that of supporters.

We talked yesterday about what this says about the Republican Party in 2010, most notably the fact that moderates are no longer welcome in the GOP. But now that Crist’s move is official, let’s consider another question: can the governor actually win?

There are two clear truths that are worth acknowledging at the outset: (1) Crist’s odds are better after the announcement than before, since he stood no chance of winning the Republican primary; and (2) that’s not saying much, since the uphill climb is still daunting.

Less than a fourth of Florida’s electorate falls outside one of the two major parties, so Crist has a very small needle to thread. The strategy sounds plausible on paper — win the independents, pick up moderate Republicans, impress the conservative Dems upstate, eke out a narrow win in a three-way contest with a vote total around 35% — but executing it is much more difficult.

Why? Because Crist will very likely struggle to put together the pieces a candidate needs to win, especially in a huge, expensive state.

Even before leaving the party, Crist had a bare-bones campaign team that lacked even a political director.

“He couldn’t put an organization together as a Republican, so he’s not going to pull it together as an independent,” said a former adviser.

Ana Navarro, a Florida GOP fundraiser and Rubio backer was more blunt: “In Florida, organization — grassroots, voter turnout, early voting mobilization, volunteers, phone banking, absentee ballots — can amount to two-to-four [percentage] points. And Charlie Crist has no machinery, no base, no statewide organization. Meek and Rubio both have their own and party organizations.”

This matters. As of today, Crist doesn’t even have a campaign staff — his top aides quit yesterday, as expected — and the kind of folks the governor might want to hire tend to be loyal to one party or the other. He has a fair amount of money in the bank, but Crist will not only have to give some of it back to angry GOP donors, he’ll also find that raising money without party backing is exceedingly difficult.

To be sure, Crist is a talented pol with 100% name recognition. But he’s also a candidate with no campaign operation six months before voters head to the ballot box, a sinking approval rating, and a record of rhetoric that makes his independent bid look like a shameless act of political opportunism.

Can Crist pull this off? It’s Florida, so anything’s possible. But I’m hard pressed to see how he’s elected.