MIAMI, Fla. -- Charlie Crist has repeatedly and adamantly stated that he will not leave the Republican Party, but the denials are not dampening the frenzy of political chatter over whether the Florida governor has a better chance of winning the open U.S. Senate seat by running as an independent.
The move would allow the popular governor to avoid the turbulent Tea Party-infested waters of the GOP primary that has given former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio an edge among core Republican voters.
But Crist is quashing the speculation.
"It's not going to happen,'' Crist told reporters in Florida last week.
"Some friends of mine talked to me about it, but I haven't embraced it," Crist also said to a reporter from the conservative Human Events publication. "I'm running as a Republican."
Crist campaign manager Erik Eikenberg directly blames the Rubio camp for fueling the fire of an independent candidacy, saying it is trying to distract from the bad press Rubio has gotten for racking up personal charges on his Florida Republican Party American Express card while he was speaker of the state House.
"As soon as things get hot under the collar, this chatter starts. I'm surprised you're not hearing (Crist) is moving to Illinois or Utah," Eikenberg said in a statement to Fox News.
"The only problem with that claim, besides the fact that it isn't true, is that Charlie Crist himself is responsible for starting the rumor," Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos retorted in an e-mail.
Though Crist denies he would ever bail on the GOP, some observers say an independent run could be his only chance of winning in November, since he's dropping in primary polls after leading by double digits earlier in the race.
"Charlie can beat Marco Rubio in a general election. He can't beat him in a low-turnout Republican primary dominated by the party's right wing, " Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas wrote Tuesday in a blog post titled "Ten reasons Charlie Crist will run as an independent."
"Charlie has $7 million. He wouldn't have to spend a dime in the primary. And while the party machines wouldn't be funneling him money, if Charlie looks like he could win, the money will come his way regardless," Thomas wrote.
"Charlie is the best politician in Florida. Being an independent lets Charlie be Charlie. It frees him up for his main selling point -- that we all have to get along and quit the partisan rancor," Thomas added.
To the annoyance of the Crist campaign, the speculation will probably not end until April 30, Florida's deadline to change parties for the race. Or it could come earlier if Republican polls swing back in Crist's direction and the gap closes.