Crist's Senate run to set off an election scramble in Florida

For the next 18 months, as the state battles its worst financial crisis in at least half a century, Florida will be led by a bunch of lame ducks.

Virtually every statewide leader in Tallahassee, beginning with Gov. Charlie Crist, is expected to be seeking higher office. Crist's anticipated announcement Tuesday morning that he's running for the U.S. Senate, rather than reelection as governor, will trigger one of the most chaotic and wide open election seasons ever in Florida.

"It's going to be like a fruit basket overturned," said Joyce Russell, of the non-partisan Forum of the Palm Beaches, where Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink spoke Monday amid buzz about her potential gubernatorial campaign. "I like consistency. This makes me nervous."

Besides Crist and Sink, the other statewide elected officials expected to seek new office are Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, both likely to run for governor.

Crist's bid could also leave the Republican Party of Florida in the lurch, putting at risk its control of the governor's mansion and Florida's Cabinet. And with Crist running for federal office, he no longer can raise corporate contributions or unlimited "soft money" for the state party. That means that the state GOP, already cutting staffers and facing fundraising challenges with the sour economy, loses its top money-raiser.

"It's a huge problem for Republicans, and it certainly plays into the other side's hands," said Republican consultant Brett Doster of Tallahassee. "It's going to put the party in a more defensive posture than it has been in a couple decades."

What's more, some Republicans are worried about their top contender for governor, McCollum. He has lost two of three statewide bids since 2000. Sink, considered the Democratic front-runner for governor if she runs, won her first and only statewide campaign in 2006.

"Bill McCollum is a great attorney general, but I think sometimes when individuals have run too many times statewide, you have to look at who's electable in a general election and then everybody needs to get behind that person in a primary," said Kathleen Shanahan, chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

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