Amid the meltdown of the 2009 session of the Florida Legislature, one theme that has resurfaced again and again is that Gov. Charlie Crist is not engaged and is already looking ahead to his next election - and his next job in the U.S. Senate.
Crist has not made his intentions publicly known yet - although the Capitol building is rife with speculation that it is a foregone conclusion that the governor will leave the governor's mansion in 2010. Some Republicans chafe at this suggestion, while other Republican legislators assume that Crist is in fact leaving.
But what may have gotten lost in translation is that a Crist bid for U.S. Senate should not be seen as automatic. There's no doubt he would become the instant front-runner but a Senate campaign would in fact be a bigger risk for Crist than running for re-election.
Consider some of these numbers:
* 7 as in 7 percent. That's how how much Crist beat Jim Davis by in the 2006 governor's race. While this is a decent margin, it's important to remember that Crist outraised Davis 3 to 1 in campaign contributions and had additional resources poured into the race by the Republican Party of Florida. Crist's fundraising machine will not have the same advantages in a U.S. Senate race because of federal restrictions on raising corporate dollars.
* 60 as in the magic number needed for firm Democratic control of the U.S. Senate. Would the Democratic National Committee be tempted to pour in millions into Florida in order to help President Barack Obama?
* 4.2 million vs. 2.5 million. That's how many more votes that Obama got in 2008 versus the number Crist received two years previously. Of course, there is always a higher turnout in a presidential election year. But what happens if the Democratic voting base is energized at the prospect of electing Florida's first black U.S. Senator - if Kendrick Meek gets the nomination - and the Republican conservative voting base is disenchanted with Crist. (Over the stimulus, over felons voting rights, over insurance, take your pick.)
* 82,663. That's the number that Mel Martinez won his 2004 U.S. Senate race by. Martinez squeaked out that victory in a year that saw the Republicans run a stellar campaign in Florida to get President George Bush re-elected. Crist won't have the same advantage.
This doesn't mean that Crist can't win. He obviously continues to enjoy healthy poll numbers despite all the problems in the state. But it's worth noting that a Crist re-election campaign would go a lot smoother than shooting for a job in Washington D.C.