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Charlie Crist plans to switch parties, run for Senate as independent

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist plans to announce he will run for the Senate as an independent, leaving the Republican party and setting up a three-way fight in the fall, according to several sources briefed on his decision.

Crist is expected to make the announcement, which had been rumored for weeks, tomorrow afternoon in St. Petersburg.

Sources close to Crist warned that he could change his mind at the last minute -- and has shown a propensity for doing just that -- but that as of today he was set on an independent run. Sources close to Crist also described him as comfortable with his decision and not terribly conflicted, however, that suggests there is less likelihood that he would change his mind.

His switch comes as former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) -- once considered the longest of shots to defeat the popular governor -- has rode a wave of adoration from conservatives nationally to not only catch but pass Crist in polling.

The final straw for Crist may well have been the first quarter fundraising reports in which Rubio collected $3.6 million to $1.1 million for the incumbent governor. While Crist still had a cash on hand edge -- he ended the period with $7.5 million in the bank -- the numbers made clear that momentum was all with Rubio.

Despite the mounting evidence of a possible switch, Crist, himself, was adamant that such a move was not under consideration. As recently as earlier this month, Crist released a statement headlined: "I am running as a Republican. Period."

In the intervening weeks, however, Crist seemed to open the door to such a move -- huddling with longtime aides and donors about an independent bid and even conducting a poll earlier this week to test his viability in the contest.

The buzz out of those meetings was that most people close to Crist urged him to step aside but that his mind was made up on an independent bid.

Rubio, meanwhile, did everything he could to ensure that Crist's move would be painted in purely political terms and lined up every Republican dignitary under the sun -- from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to former Vice President Dick Cheney to endorse him.

Crist's decision means that he, Rubio and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) will face off in November.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 28, 2010; 4:12 PM ET
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