By Rick Klein: The time for hugging is over. (And yes, those mics are live, Mr. Prime Minister.) Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., bolts the Republican Party on Thursday — almost a year to the day that Sen. Arlen Specter dropped the GOP in his reelection bid. The party’s learned quite a bit about its standing since then. Specter’s decision to embrace the president’s agenda seemed to cut in a bit of a different direction in those heady early days of the Obama era. But Crist’s literal embrace of President Obama simply taught him the same lesson Specter, D-Pa., learned a year earlier — and through the same stubborn channels of political practicality. The route back to power, under the Republican calculations that are now being accepted with near-unanimity, is over and through not just the president, but the political establishment. A similar tack actually worked fairly well for Democrats in 2006. And recall, of course, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s own war within his party, ending just as Crist’s is, with an “I” next to his name. By the same token, Crist’s failure as a Republican puts him in league with not just Specter but other Republicans who’ve struggled with perceptions of establishment tarnish, from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. We know the next steps by heart: staff resignations, donor refunds, even more attention and money flowing to Marco Rubio, a boomlet of interest in Democrat Kendrick Meek, long-stretching narratives about ideological purges inside a party that’s getting on its feet … And there’s Crist, the uncomfortable man of the moment, hoping Thursday isn’t the high point of what’s going to be an interesting run. The moment comes at 5 pm ET, in St. Petersburg: “Gov. Charlie Crist, a pariah in the Republican Party that has been vital to his success, will launch a risky political career today as a ‘people's candidate’ for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation,” Steve Bousquet, Adam C. Smith and Beth Reinhard report in the St. Petersburg Times. “Wednesday, Crist began telling campaign donors of his decision, which he will announce at 5 p.m. at Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg, surrounded by family members, friends, local supporters and an army of media personnel.” “Crist, expected to remain a registered Republican, will be forced to rebuild a campaign without the logistical and financial support of the Republican Party. He'll have to hire a new manager, staff and consultants for the three-way race with Republican Marco Rubio and likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek, and he is sure to be pilloried by Republicans as a political opportunist with one goal: to salvage his career.” Crist has been polling his chances — and knows for certain the only shot he has is as an independent: “According to his advisers, Mr. Crist would remain a registered Republican while qualifying for the ballot with ‘no party affiliation.’ That would signal his intent to continue wooing at least the one-third of GOP voters who, according to polls, planned to side with him in the primary,” Peter Wallsten and Valerie Bauerlein report in The Wall Street Journal. “He will hope for help from donors and from the state teachers union, which has been airing ads thanking Mr. Crist for vetoing a teacher-tenure bill this month. Aid might also come from the National Rifle Association, which has awarded Mr. Crist high grades. The NRA has said it is still evaluating the race.” Deeper than ideology, or even hugs: “The more complicated truth, say top GOP officials from both wings of the party, is that an ornery conservative base is expressing its disgust for Republicans who have both flagrantly defied the party and who represent a distrusted political establishment,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports. “GOP officials, preparing for Crist’s move Thursday, said his unambiguous play for political survival wouldn’t reveal fissures within the party as much as it would underline the problem he already has — that he’s the ultimate play-the-angles pol.” ABC’s Claire Shipman, on “Good Morning America” Thursday: “The Sunshine State brawl has become now a national Petri dish of sorts. It’s letting us all look at what can happen in the wildly unpredictable, anti-establishment world of Republican politics these days.” No love … The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder: “Charlie Crist, soon to be independent Senate candidate from Florida, tried to reach White House chief of staff [Rahm] Emanuel through intermediates. WH refuses to take the call. Dems plan big talent/money blitz for Kendrick Meek.” At the very least: “The political rules of hugging have changed,” Slate’s John Dickerson writes. Chris Cillizza, at “The Fix” blog: “The final straw for Crist may well have been the first quarter fundraising reports in which Rubio collected $3.6 million to $1.1 million for the incumbent governor. While Crist still had a cash on hand edge — he ended the period with $7.5 million in the bank — the numbers made clear that momentum was all with Rubio.” (And watch those numbers shift when the calls for refunds start flowing in — plus the fact that he can’t raise money for a primary any longer.) For the coffers: “Then Crist will hold a kick-off rally this weekend on Fisher Island, the exclusive Miami community where his wife Carole has a home,” the Orlando Sentinel reports. Gearing up: “Mr. Rubio turned to his base and hinted that he would portray Mr. Crist’s departure from the party as a victory. His campaign issued a statement that said Mr. Rubio would host an event Thursday in Coral Gables to ‘greet and thank the grass-roots volunteers that form the backbone of the Republican Party and have helped fuel his campaign,’ ” The New York Times’ Damien Cave and Gary Fineout write. Rubio strategists Todd Harris and Heath Thompson, in an “interested parties” memo released Wednesday to reporters: “Tomorrow will be the best day of Charlie Crist’s new campaign.” “Nightline” co-anchor Terry Moran spends the day with Rubio and will sit down with him in Coral Cables for an interview on his reaction to the announcement that’s expected later in the day. Other topics they’ll cover: Arizona’s new immigration law, the economic stimulus, the Tea Party movement, and what his candidacy says about the Republican Party. Watch for the interview Thursday night on ABC, 11:35 p.m. ET. As for the chances … Steve Schale, Obama’s 2008 Florida director: “If Charlie is Charlie, he can win. No one likes the lights more than Crist, and for the next six months the lights will shine brightly on him as both candidates take shots at him as they work to secure their own base. Lose and its take your fan and go home. Win and you transform Florida politics.” Fans, at the Miami Herald editorial board: “If Gov. Charlie Crist bolts from the Republican Party as expected Thursday, Florida's voters will be the winners. The more choices for voters in the upcoming U.S. Senate race, the better for our democracy.” Long knives, with long memories … Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.: “When the numbers didn’t work for him and he left us, when the numbers didn’t work for Crist, he left us. That’s not the kind of people we need to bet on our future.” Mike Huckabee, now a Florida resident: “I think most Florida voters will remember that come November when they join me in proudly casting a vote for conservative Marco Rubio – who still knows what he believes and why he believes it.” Get ready: “One Republican senator has asked Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return a $1,000 contribution to his Senate campaign, and other senators are expected to follow suit if Mr. Crist announces Thursday he's dropping out of the Republican primary in Florida to run as an independent,” the Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan and Ralph Z. Hallow report. But just enough love: “Senate Republican leaders are set to rescind their endorsement of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist today if, as expected, he bolts the party to run as an independent in the Senate race, but they have not ruled out allowing him to caucus with Republicans if he wins in November,” National Journal’s Erin McPike reports. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas: “We'll take it one step at a time.” Piling on — those poor folks backed by the party committees: “Polls show at least four candidates favored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee would lose their primaries if the elections were held today. And five other committee-preferred candidates are entangled in competitive contests that are far from sure bets,” Politico’s David Catanese reports. Back in Washington — somehow or other a declared “impasse” allowed a filibuster to be broken, and the march is back on toward financial regulatory reform. (Suddenly not such a bad spring for Democrats, if it’s health care plus Wall Street reform.) “The decision by Republicans to allow floor deliberations came after they voted three days in a row to block the bill, and it suggested that they saw political peril in being depicted as impeding tougher rules for Wall Street,” David M. Herszenhorn and Edward Wyatt write in The New York Times. “But Republicans still oppose many aspects of the bill, and a rough floor fight lies ahead.” “I’m pleased that after a few days of delay, it appears that an agreement may be in hand to allow this debate to move forward on the Senate floor on this critical issue,” President Obama said Wednesday in Quincy, Ill., per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller. “What I don’t want is a deal made that is written by the financial industry lobbyists.” “The breakthrough came in a bipartisan agreement on a single contentious element of the overhaul proposal: the creation of new government authority to wind down failing financial firms,” Greg Hitt and Damian Paletta write in The Wall Street Journal. “Democrats, in a concession, agreed to kill a proposed $50 billion fund to break up large, failing financial companies. The move gave Republicans an opening to end their opposition to moving the legislation as their unified position was starting to fray. But in other areas, notably derivatives regulation — which will be debated Thursday — and consumer protection, the sides remain divided.” Who to thank? “Lawmakers have been haggling over financial reform for 18 months, but it took Goldman Sachs just one day to get it done,” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes. “It took a panel of Goldman Sachs executives to do it, but the pitchforks have finally come out.” Not letting up: Look for Senate Democrats to keep the pressure on Republicans, per a Senate Democratic aide, “drawing sharp contrasts on the policy and holding Republicans accountable for their secret meetings with Wall Street executives.” Watch for a video debuting Thursday: “Behind Closed Doors.” Scrutiny on Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. — again: “Nelson has repeatedly said his objections center on the impact the legislation could have on businesses beyond Wall Street,” The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis and Lori Montgomery report. “But there has been widespread skepticism on Capitol Hill about Nelson's public explanation for his dissent, and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), added further doubts by saying that Nelson raised concerns about a provision concerning exotic financial instruments called derivatives. That provision has drawn fire from Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha-based company of billionaire Warren Buffett, and Nelson's biggest donor over the past decade.” In New York — taking the case to Wall Street. The AFL-CIO is planning a 10,000 person rally at 4 pm ET, complete with a march down Broadway to the stock exchange. It will be live-streaming, via the AFL-CIO. And AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will be a guest on ABC’s “Top Line” Thursday, noon ET at ABCNews.com. The breakdown, from DNC Chairman Tim Kaine: $30 million on the strategy to motivate the 2008 first-time voters to show up in 2010, plus $20 million in direct investments in campaigns and state parties. “We’re going to hold on to both houses and be sure he has the majorities he needs to work with,” Kaine said, per ABC’s David Chalian.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., on ABC’s “Top Line”: “They're the party of results — it's just the bad results.” GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, writing at US News & World Report: “It seems surreal to hear that the White House is announcing plans, six months before the November elections, to energize its base and appeal to such distinct groups as African-Americans, Latinos, and younger voters. Weren’t they supposed to have been helping these groups all along?” Immigration — falling off the agenda, again? “We've gone through a very tough year and I've been working Congress very hard, so I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue,” President Obama said aboard Air Force One. The trophy seats, maybe changing possession: “This year, Republicans are looking to hit the trifecta in the Senate,” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty writes. “As things stand now, they are well within striking distance of winning President Obama's old seat in Illinois and Vice President Biden's former perch in Delaware, and of toppling Majority Leader Harry M. Reid in Nevada.” “All of this has created an awkward situation for the White House. That Team Obama seems incapable of arranging an orderly handoff in the president's home state has many in both parties wondering about the acumen of an operation whose top strategist, David Axelrod, was the premier Democratic political consultant there and whose chief of staff has designs on being mayor of Chicago.” Waiting on a surge — and this could get ugly: “Since the U.S. recession began in December 2007, Congress has extended the duration of weekly unemployment benefits for the jobless three times. Now, the lawmakers may have reached their limit,” Bloomberg’s Brian Faler reports. “They are quietly drawing the line at 99 weeks of aid, a mark that hundreds of thousands of Americans have already reached. In coming months, the number of those who will receive their final government check is projected to top 1 million.” Taking it to their front door…. From the media advisory: “U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Evan Bayh (D-IN) will hold a news conference TODAY, April 29, 2010, at 10 a.m. in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to unveil legislation to mitigate the negative impacts of the Court’s decision that allowed unlimited spending on elections by special interests. The lawmakers will announce plans to pass the measure in the U.S. Senate by July 4 of this year.”
The Kicker: “I'm about halfway home.” — Former President Bill Clinton, on his daughter’s request that he lose 15 points before her wedding. ”Of course I will. Of course I will.” — Gov. Charlie Crist, in last month’s Fox News debate, asked whether he would support the winner of the GOP Senate primary in Florida.
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