First off, this is genuinely awful news for Rubio. The ex-House speaker was set to cream Crist in the August primary, then ride the blitz of media attention all the way to the general election. Just a few weeks back, this race appeared a lock for him.
For Meek, the news is a mixed bag. His biggest problem all year is that he hasn't gotten a piece of the action. Crist jumped in the race as the frontrunner, then the tea parties started boosting Rubio, and suddenly the insurgent candidacy bumped Crist from the top of the polls. Meek has been barely a side note in this race. Today he becomes a player. Expect him to appear on every cable network Thursday and start getting equal play in the mainstream media.
But Crist knows what he is doing here. He is now free to trumpet the most politically popular position on every issue. You can see it in the past few weeks. Offshore drilling? He is now against it. Teachers? He is on their side. These are two positions that the Republican Party detests, but which will gain him traction with independents. Meanwhile, he still can bottle the anti-tax fervor which plays so well in this state. He still got Amendment 1 passed, substantially reducing property taxes for most in the state despite heavy opposition to the proposal from the left.
He loses Jeb Bush, and probably Bill McCollum and other GOP leaders, but he probably keeps quite a few as well. George LeMieux will probably stick with Crist, though, which means that the incumbent senator will be behind Charlie at every high-profile campaign stop.
And of course, all of those GOP leaders who stand by Crist will educate voters on some facts that won't be widely discussed right away. Crist doesn't need to change his party registration to run as an independent in Florida. If elected, he will be as much a Republican as Rubio, and he will caucus with Mitch McConnell and crew. Unlike Joe Lieberman, he won't have to reject his affiliation with this. Some donors will be pissed right now about Crist running without a party, but if their interest is boosting the Republican whip count in the Senate, he will still make good on that deal.
But he won't be beholden to the party. He will be an indy superstar, capable of taking any stance he likes. Arlen Specter was driven from his party by tea-baggers. Crist might just prove he can survive without them, without going full-on Democrat.
Could I be wrong? Perhaps, but such concessions make for lousy commentary. So I'm sticking with my prediction that Indy Crist wins.