Charlie Crist to Run for Senate from Florida as Independent

Charlie Crist

Updated at 7 p.m. ET

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will run for the Senate without party affiliation, forgoing a bid for the GOP nomination.

His much-anticipated decision "in many ways says more about our nation and our state than it does about me," Crist said today. "Unfortunately, our political system is broken."

Voters are tired of gridlock and partisanship, said Crist, who has been under the scrutiny of conservatives in the Republican party.

Crist's announcement sets up a three-way race for the Florida Senate seat, leaving the GOP nomination open for Marco Rubio, the former Florida House speaker. As an independent candidate, Crist has some prospect of beating Rubio and the presumed Democratic candidate, Rep. Kendrick Meek.

Polls indicated, however, that Rubio would have defeated Crist in the Aug. 24 GOP primary. Republicans quickly lined up behind Rubio after Crist's announcement.

"Marco is an emerging star who represents limited government, lower taxes, and free markets, and we are confident he will be the next United States Senator from Florida," Republican leaders in the Senate said in a joint statement released after Crist made his independent bid official.

Who runs for the Senate is "not one club's decision or another," Crist said. "It is a decision for all the people of Florida to make, and so that's why we go straight to November."

Rubio rose in the polls with the support of the Tea Party and conservative leaders in the Republican party, overshadowing the once-dominant Crist. The governor's popularity sunk among Florida Republicans after conservatives zeroed in on his support for President Obama's stimulus package.

"I've made some tough decisions as your governor," he said, "but I've done them because I think it's what's right for the people."

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In their statement today, Republican Senate leaders said Crist initially won the endorsement of the National Republican Senatorial Committee on a promise to represent the party "with principled conservative leadership."

"Quite simply, he did not keep his word," they said. "The question for Floridians is whether he will keep his word about all of the new promises he makes. Elections are about trust and frankly, it is unclear whether Governor Crist deserves any."

Former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also criticized Crist, saying he was not surprised by the announcement, CBS News Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder reports.

"This decision is not about policy or principles," Bush said. "It is about what he believes is in his political self-interest."

Crist acknowledged today he was entering "unchartered territory."

"I am aware after this speech ends I don't have either party helping me," he said. "But I need you helping me more than ever."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine released a statement attacking Republicans for rejecting moderates like Crist.

"Over the past year, the GOP has been purging members who fail to embrace the far right-wing extremist views of the Tea Party, and it has made clear that it will no longer accept officials who attempt to work across the aisle or even consider putting their country before their party's ideology," he said.

Kaine praised Meek for working while, he said, Crist and Rubio were "bickering over luxury spending by the Republican Party of Florida and debating who is more conservative." Rubio and the Florida GOP are reportedly under federal investigation for expenses put on party credit cards.

Crist still has $7 million in the bank for his campaign, Ambinder reports.