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Crist, the ‘Cahill’ of Florida?

If Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wants a glimpse into the life of a newly declared Independent candidate, he need look no further than Massachusetts’ Tim Cahill.

Cahill, the sitting Democratic state treasurer, had been eyeing a gubernatorial bid, but Cahill and the Democratic Party had been drifting apart. The party base continued to rally around sitting Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, leaving Cahill with little hope of becoming the party favorite. So last year, Cahill changed his party affiliation from Democrat to what Massachusetts’ election law refers to as “unenrolled” status.

That switch shook things up on the Republican side of the race. Polls show that since identifying as unenrolled, Cahill has begun to cut into frontrunner Republican Charlie Baker’s margin. Part of that success can be linked to Cahill’s new alignment with the Tea Party movement.

So can Crist expect the same kind of treatment if he does decide to run as an Independent? Not necessarily. For one, Massachusetts is friendlier territory for outsider candidates — unenrolled voters make up more than half of registered voters in Massachusetts. In Florida, fewer than 20 percent of voters are Independents.

And Crist won’t be the one capitalizing on the Tea Party in his race — Crist’s GOP opponent, Marco Rubio, has conservative support locked down. Polls do show better odds for Crist if he runs as an Independent, but he’d still be playing catch-up to Rubio.

Despite their vastly different circumstances, do Crist or Cahill have a better shot at winning their elections as candidates outside of the two major parties? Well, yes, but they each still have a long road ahead to become more than just a spoiler.

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