TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida Governor Charlie Crist said on Tuesday he would run in 2010 for the U.S. Senate and would not seek re-election as governor of a state hit especially hard by the recession.
“The challenges Florida faces are not just Florida challenges but they are national issues,” Crist said.
“As a result of that, I believe I can best serve the people of Florida if they are willing to allow me (to be) their next United States senator,” he announced in the state capital.
Elected in 2006 to a four-year term, Crist is seen as the top contender to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Mel Martinez, a fellow Republican.
“It’s hard to handicap because it’s early but certainly if they were doing a poll right now Charlie Crist would be the favorite,” said state Representative Ron Saunders, a Democrat.
A moderate who has embraced calls to retool the economy and build an environmentally sustainable Florida after decades of growth, Crist has been criticized by conservatives for backing Democratic President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package.
But a Quinnipiac poll released last month found he maintained an impressive 68 percent approval rating among Republicans, the same number he drew in November before appearing with Obama at an event plugging the stimulus plan.
Crist draws roughly the same positive ratings from Democrats and independents.
Crist, who succeeded former President George W. Bush’s younger brother Jeb as governor, drew fire from Democrats who say he has failed to address some of the many problems in a state hit hard by the U.S. housing crisis and economic meltdown and grappling with soaring unemployment.
“By running for U.S. Senate, Charlie Crist has cut and run on the Sunshine State, once again taking the easy way out, avoiding responsibility and leaving the hard work of facing Florida’s problems to the next governor,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman said in a statement.
In the Republican primary, Crist will be challenged by former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a conservative from Miami and son of Cuban immigrants who has characterized the upcoming race as a battle to regain the party’s conservative roots.
In the general election in November 2010, Crist is expected to face U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat, who has already announced he will run.
Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech