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Chiles and Crist Show Florida's Independent Streak


TALLAHASSEE -- There  is no questioning the fact that the two-party system is an entrenched mainstay in American politics. Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman are the only unaffiliated members of congress and an independent has not sat as President of the United States, since John Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party in 1841. Lieberman of course, switched from a Democrat only after being defeated in a party primary, but has sided with Republicans often enough to wear the label with a straight face.

Lawton "Bud" Chiles will run for governor

Only a dozen state legislators throughout the U.S. are independents, but as the two parties continue to struggle with infighting among members at either extreme of their ideologies, it has created enough space for moderates to clearly define themselves. Nowhere might that potential be better demonstrated than in Florida's 2010 slate.

This fall, two big name political icons will be on the ballot in the biggest statewide races. Incumbent Independent Governor Charlie Crist will run for U.S. Senate and the son of one of the most beloved Florida politicians of all time, Lawton "Bud" Chiles III, will run for governor.

Crist, like Lieberman, has strategically moved. However, also like Lieberman, Crist's record accurately  portrays a moderate who is closer to the mainstream of either party, then the base of his own. If independents were a party, Crist and Lieberman could probably be prototypes.

Chiles, on the other hand, has largely based his campaign in protest of both parties, as opposed to feeling between the two. "The two parties are not the solution," Chiles said in announcing his campaign last Thursday. "They're caught up in this high-stakes game that pits big money against big money and leaves ordinary Floridians on the sidelines and I refuse to play that game."

Chiles, a lifelong Democrat like his father, said that a meeting with Alex Sink, in which she warned him she would be raising $30 million for her run, convinced him that running as an independent was the right way to go. The move will spare him the expense of a primary battle with Sink and also allow him to run against unpopular incumbent sentiment.

There have only been three states to elect an independent candidate to Governor and it should be noted that it is one thing to get to high office and leave a party, and another to begin your career as one. However, Chiles family name gives him an obvious edge. He has a firm Democratic pedigree, but one that dates back to the Dixiecrat days, when many current Florida Republicans voted as "Southern Democrats". It remains to be seen whether that will resonate with voters.

Crist is running for U.S. Senate as an independent

Chiles' biggest challenge will be financial. Sink has successfully energized the state's Democratic base and Chiles has pledged not to take a dime from special interests. Under normal circumstances, he probably wouldn't stand a chance, however, if there were to be an exception, wouldn't a name like Lawton Chiles be the best equalizer an underdog candidate could hope for?  

Whatever the eventual outcomes, it is monumental that Florida will be the epicenter of the independent movement this fall, and the results may serve as a bellwether for other states. As a sitting Governor with real fundraising clout, Crist will be a live candidate, unless his run is upended by a scandal and Chiles will be a dark horse to watch out for. Elections are never dull, but this year may prove to be the most exciting off-presidential vote our state has seen in quite some time.


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