Heading into Sunday morning's CNN debate, Gov. Charlie Crist was already having a bad day.
Behind the sunny smile and the ever-tan is a man who knows he has a better chance of squeezing another $10 million out of BP than he does being elected Florida's next senator.
With early voting under way, every poll taken of the U.S. Senate race in Florida, including our Sunshine State News Poll, has Crist trailing Marco Rubio by double digits. Very large ones at that. But it isn't just the poll results that now pummel that eternal optimism of his. And it's not his campaign's near-empty war chest -- though that's a huge concern.
It's that history is telling him it's over.
It's that his misery has company.
It's that Crist, the No Party Affiliation candidate, has been swept along in a current of no-way-Jose independents and third-partyites seeking high political office.
Wall Street Journal guest columnist Peter Brown compares the independent/third-party syndrome to varieties of flowers that "bloom in the spring and die in October when conditions become much less hospitable."
Crist's flower was in peak bloom in the midst of the Gulf oil spill. He appeared barefoot on beaches with his trousers rolled up, he served as guest panelist on network news shows, he unleashed a barrage of letters to BP demanding money for Florida's lost tourism. In short, he got to showcase his current office and hint at what he could do for Florida in Washington, D.C.
Crist might have been the least happy Floridian the day the gushing well was capped.
But our governor isn't the only one-time-Republican-or-Democrat-turned-independent/third-party to become the Incredible Shrinking Candidate. It's happening all over America. Brown cites them:
* Tim Cahill in Massachusetts went from Democrat to independent to run for governor. He looked good for a while in his three-way race, then poof.
* Eliot Cutler, once a Dem and an aide to President Bill Clinton, wants to be an independent governor. His chances have gone from fair to nil.
* U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a former GOPer, is running as an independent in Rhode Island and may -- may -- still have a chance.
* Of course, funny things are going on in Alaska. The situation is fuzzy there after Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary and is running a write-in campaign for her seat.
* Don't forget Tom Tancredo from Colorado. Tancredo is a former Republican congressman who went third-party after the GOP primary nominated political newcomer Dan Maes. He might be able to defy the odds because, even though he's behind the Democratic nominee, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, he's still within firing range.
* Candidates who identify themselves as tea partiers abound in Election 2010. But most of them poll to single digits. That's understandable. Voters who identify themselves as tea partiers are largely voting Republican.
"Bernard Sanders and Joe Lieberman are sitting U.S. senators elected as third-party candidates, but both are special stories," writes Brown, who is the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute -- and, by the way, now calls Crist "a long shot."
"Sen. Sanders, a former socialist, had the backing of Vermonts Democrats when he was elected," he said. "And Sen. Lieberman, an 18-year incumbent, lost the Democratic primary in 2006 but won his fourth term with the tacit help of a Republican Party that preferred him to a more liberal Democrat. Both men caucus with the Democrats in the Senate."
Crist has no such special story to give him hope.
When he left the Republican Party -- taking Republican donors' money with him -- the party not only turned around and left him lock, stock and barrel, it fully embraced Crist's conservative rival, Marco Rubio. And it ran punishing ads against Crist. The governor's best shot was to lure Democrats away from U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
It hasn't worked. There haven't been enough of those votes to make up for Republican disdain.
The Sunday morning debate, an overwhelming win for Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, is likely to be Crist's last hurrah.
When all is said and done, Charlie Crist could come in third.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting(850) 727-0859end_of_the_skype_highlighting.