Necessary Evils

Is Charlie Crist Actually Good For Democrats?

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For all the shit we’re throwing Charlie Crist’s way — for being a gay Florida governor who spits on gay rights — might liberals actually want the guy in the U.S. Senate?

Yes, if the brilliant mind of Nate Silver is to be believed.

The scandal-plagued Crist, who yesterday officially announced his run for Senate, might actually be doing Democrats in the Senate a favor. How come? Because if he doesn’t run, the top two contenders are Marco Rubio, “a conservative young Cuban” who leans much farther to the right than Crist, and Kendrick Meek, “a not-particularly-progressive South Florida congressman” who’s the favorite to represent the Democratic ticket next year.

But with Crist’s run, we’re all but assured “an extremely moderate Republican” will be seated. So how is that good for progressive types?

Well Crist supported Obama’s stimulus plan, while many GOPs did not. His voting record hints Crist could be an ally in Democrats’ health care reform policies. He’s appointed both conservatives and moderates to the Florida Supreme Court, and played both sides of pro-choice and pro-life, suggesting he’s amenable to confirming an Obama pick who stands on either side of the issue (though Justice David Souter’s replacement will likely have been picked by the time Crist is elected). He’s shown willingness to enact immigration reform that provides amnesty to illegal immigrants.

And then there’s the other stuff: Harsher laws on marijuana. Pro-gun policies. Education vouchers. Oh, and gay rights, to which Crist says he supports civil unions but supported an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He also let stand a ban on same-sex couples adopting.

But when all is said and done, Crist is not some right-wing zealot. He “resembles those of Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins,” notes Silver. His approval ratings are buoyed by bipartisan support. “Reading the divining rods, my guess is that the key policy debates during this interval will involve environmental policy (since cap-and-trade may lack the momentum to pass in a down economy), the tax code (since there will be increasing pressure on the Administration to pare down the deficit), and perhaps immigration reform (where Democrats may dare Republicans to further alienate Hispanic voters in advance of the 2012 elections). Democrats are likely to have Crist’s support on two of these three issues; that might be a bit better for them than flipping a coin between zero and three.”