The Republican tidal wave of victory on election day failed to bring along a former favorite son and U.S. Senate hopeful Charlie Crist, a defeat that would have once been deemed stunning, but on Tuesday seemed inevitable.
The results left Florida’s governor only able to offer congratulations to the Senate race victor, Marco Rubio, a man he blasted for months. They also left a crowd of hardcore supporters wondering how things went wrong.
“I know he will serve our state well,” Crist said of Rubio, during a concession speech that lasted just a few minutes and, for now, has ended a storied political career in Florida.
It was a statement independent candidate Crist would never have considered uttering during a bruising campaign against Rubio, who stunningly overcame a 30-point deficit in the polls at the beginning of his campaign against Crist.
Crist called losing the vote by 20 percent to Rubio a “tough night,” before leaving a banquet hall in a hotel in his hometown of St. Petersburg full of supporters chanting his name.
But the chants were the final gasp of a somber crowd that quickly learned of Crist’s defeat after the polls closed in Florida’s panhandle. Just 10 minutes after the polls closed, media outlets were showing Rubio already had 1.4 million votes to Crist’s 669,000. Rubio ended the night with 49 percent of the vote to Crist’s 29.
“We learned tonight that running as an independent in Florida is a tough, tough thing,” Crist supporter and Republican state Sen. Mike Fasano told The Florida Independent.
Fasano was one of the few well-known Republican political faces in the crowd waiting for Crist’s concession speech.
“I promised him I would support him no matter what happened,” said Fasano.
With a giant sign behind Crist’s podium, the I’s in his name dotted with stars, supporters of the state’s former attorney general and the governor said his loss was not the result of lack of trying to bring out the vote.
“We worked on every person, every city, every gas station, but in the end, the numbers just weren’t there,” said Crist’s friend and campaign contributor Watson Haynes.
Haynes said Crist lost favor with Republicans because he refused to toe the party line. Many believe his veto of an education bill that would have based teacher’s pay on student’s test performances sealed his fate with his former party.
“I quit the Republican Party the same day Charlie did,” Haynes said. “You have to play by the rules to be part of the game. Well, I didn’t like the rules, and Charlie didn’t either.”
Others at Crist’s rally remained stunned by his steady decline in the polls in recent months, almost assuring a loss Crist never acknowledged on the campaign trail.
“I think Rubio rode a harder line and Charlie was more in the middle,” said supporter Travis Parker. “The party was looking for that hardcore Republican.”
Many in the room came to say goodbye to Crist and his current Senate campaign, but it was hard to find anyone who would say they did not expect to see him back on some campaign trail again in Florida.
“I hope to see him again out there,” said Kareem Spratling, a Tampa attorney who used to clerk in Crist’s attorney general’s office. “I hope it’s not the last time we see Charlie Crist.”
Crist’s friend Watson Haynes predicted a return to politics for Crist, but not before the sting of Rubio’s sound defeat subsides.
“It’s a reality,” Haynes said of Crist returning to Florida’s political stage. “He has been the public persona of Florida politics for so long.”
Crist even dropped a hint that he was not done during his concession speech.
“It’s a tough night, but there is a bright future ahead,” he told the crowd.