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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman April 29, 2010

Crist faces uphill battle to find votes as an independent

Marco Rubio, now the presumptive Republican nominee for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, says Republican -- scratch that -- no-party candidate Gov. Charlie Crist can't win in November.

Rubio advisers Todd Harris and Heath Thompson assessed the dynamics of a three-way election between Rubio, Crist and Democrat U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in an April 28, 2010 campaign memo that was shared with the media.

The memo outlines the hurdles facing Crist's no-party candidacy. Harris and Thompson wrote that Crist will have trouble raising money and organizing a ground campaign now that he lacks the support of a major party. Florida's voter registration numbers, Harris and Thompson wrote, are also squarely against "the people's" candidate.

Harris and Thompson wrote:

There are two great myths about Independent voters in Florida

1. There are lots of them.
2. They are all politically moderate.

Neither of these is true. In reality, by registration fewer than 20 percent of Florida voters are Independents. And that number is even smaller when based on actual turn out percentages.

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With Crist's announcement on April 29 that he would run with no party affiliation, we wanted to assess if the Rubio campaign's voter statistics.

The Florida Division of Elections maintains voter registration statistics for the entire state, and publishes updates on its website. The latest report comes from February 2010.

According to that report, Florida currently has slightly more than 11 million registered voters. Of them, 3.97 million are registered as Republicans (36 percent), and 4.62 million are registered as Democrats (42 percent). That leaves 2.47 million people that are registered as a member of a minor political party, or registered to vote with no party affiliation.

That math means that 22 percent of voters who are something other than a registered Republican or Democrat. You can see the registration statistics for yourself here.

In their memo, Harris and Thompson use a capital "I" to describe independent voters, which traditionally means the Independent Party. But we're assuming they actually meant third party or no party voters.

The two major Independent parties -- the Independence Party of Florida, and the Independent Party of Florida -- make up 2 to 3 percent of all registered voters. The lion's share or non-Republican or Democrat voters are registered as no party affiliation (19 percent).

Harris and Thompson wrote that with Democrats now thinking the Senate race can be competitive, and Rubio consolidating a corps of conservative voters, it will very difficult for Crist to find enough support -- even though his threshold to win in November could be as low as 34 percent of the vote.

"Marco and Meek will have the wherewithal to become better known," Rubio's advisers wrote. "Republicans will react to Charlie’s switch. Democrats will be introduced to Meek. And voters from both parties will begin to gravitate back to their respective camps.

"Furthermore, Independents really only know one candidate right now," they wrote. "And that’s not going to remain true for very long either."

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who ran Barack Obama's winning Florida campaign, said for Crist to win he'll need to get roughly 50 percent of third party and no party voters as well as 30-to-35 percent of the vote in both major parties.

"The independent vote in Florida isn't as big as some people think," Schale wrote on his blog.

Back to the Rubio campaign's claim. His advisers said that "by registration fewer than 20 percent of Florida voters are Independents." That's certainly true if you're only counting the state's Independent parties, but more importantly, it's also true for voters who list no party affiliation. We rate the statement True.

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