, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he has left the Republican Party and will run as an independent in the race for the Sunshine State's Senate seat.
Crist, whose fortunes among Republicans have faded in recent months, told supporters in his home town of St. Petersburg that his decision to bolt the GOP is "the right thing for Florida."
"My decision to run for the U.S. Senate as a candidate without party affiliation says more about our nation and our state than it says about me," Crist said during a short speech alongside his family. "Unfortunately our political system is broken. I think we need a new tone in Washington."
Shortly after Crist's announcement, some of the governor's former backers said they wanted their campaign donations returned. And, Republican leaders in the Senate released a statement endorsing his GOP primary opponent, Florida State Speaker Marco Rubio.
"More than a year ago, Governor Crist asked for our endorsement with a commitment that he would proudly represent Floridians and our party with principled conservative leadership. Quite simply, he did not keep his word," the GOP senators wrote. "Elections are about trust and frankly, it is unclear whether Governor Crist deserves any."
The Democratic candidate, Rep. Kendrick Meek, said he still considers Crist a member of the GOP, and he thinks voters will too.
"I believe that I'm running against two Republicans," Meek told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "Regardless of what the governor said today, he is still the Republican governor of the state of Florida. And I guess his night job will be running as an Independent. And I think it's going to confuse a number of voters in the state."
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called Crist's decision to run as an independent "disappointing."
"To be sure, he left this party. This party did not leave him" Steele said in a written statement. "His decision will in no way impede our path to victory in Florida."
, Crist, a moderate, told the Associated Press he was making a thoughtful and deliberate effort, guided by Florida residents, to decide whether to launch an independent campaign. He repeatedly said he had no intention of dropping out of the race.
Crist, once a darling of the GOP as a popular big-state governor and the runaway leader in early Senate surveys, trails the front-runner Rubio by double digits in recent polls
Tagged: 2010 Senate Elections
, 2010 senate races
, Charlie Crist
, florida senate races
, Marco Rubio