Have Republicans Abandoned Gov. Crist or Has Crist Abandoned Them?

Three weeks ago on "Fox News Sunday", my colleague Chris Wallace pressed Florida Governor Charlie Crist on whether he might run as an independent for the Senate this year. Crist said no. Would he rule it out? "That's right," the governor answered, "I'm running as a Republican."

Crist is just the kind of moderate the Republican Party is frequently accusing of refusing to tolerate. Indeed, at the time, Crist who last year hugged the president and endorsed his stimulus bill, was about 10 points down in the GOP primary polls to rising conservative star Marco Rubio.

Crist spent much of the "Fox News Sunday" appearance, in which he debated Rubio, attacking his rival for alleged financial improprieties. Asked what he would do about the financial plight of Social Security, Rubio mentioned such hard choices as raising the retirement age and curbing cost of living increases. Crist said he'd attack waste and fraud, things for which the Social Security program is not known.

Then last week, Crist vetoed a bill strongly backed by Republicans, including his predecessor Jeb Bush, to condition teacher pay in the state on student improvement and phase out the current tenure system. Labor, led by the teachers' unions had sharply opposed the bill.

As of Tuesday morning, Rubio's average lead among Republicans had grown to about 23 points. And Crist, who ruled it out last month, now says he's thinking about running as an independent. Which raises the question: Have the Republicans abandoned Crist, or has Crist abandoned them?

Brit Hume is the senior political analyst for Fox News Channel.