In a press conference concluded just moments ago, Charlie Crist, the Governor of Florida, announced he would end his campaign for US Senate as a Republican and run with no party affiliation. This sets up a likely three-way race for the Florida seat between Crist, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

“My decision to run for the United States as a candidate without party affiliation in may way says more about our nation and our state than it does about me” Crist said to crowd at Straub Park, not far from his condominium, his mother, father, wife and sisters at his side.

Crist’s careful wording seemed to leave open that he would remain a Republican in party but run as an independent. “I know this is uncharted territory … and I am aware after this ends I don’t have either party helping me. … But I’m counting on you. I think we need a new tone in Washington. I know we’re doing the right thing.”

Best of luck to him. His challenges include the lack of any staff willing to join his campaign, a shaky fundraising future, and no party organization for GOTV. I hope those polls have him up really big in a three-way contest, because it’ll be the last time he grades that high.

Republicans who previously supported Crist have already responded with a letter saying they couldn’t support Crist any longer. Meanwhile, a host of Democratic leaders from the House of Representatives restated their support for Kendrick Meek.

UPDATE: I’m on a conference call with Rep. Kendrick Meek right now, and so far, he’s told the press, “Nothing has changed for our campaign, we’re going to continue to work hard and gain momentum… I will be running against two Republicans in the general election. I feel that we will win because of the work we have done.”

Abe Dyk, Meek’s campaign manager, thinks this decision “puts Kendrick Meek in a commanding position to win this race.” He cites that both are registered Republicans caught up in the current corruption scandal with the Republican Party of Florida.”

…Meek thinks he’ll attract independent and Republican votes, and cites the 750,000-vote advantage in registration for Democrats in the state as factors in his campaign.

…Here’s a sample statement from Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown about the announcement:

“Kendrick Meek has focused his time and campaign resources here in northeast Florida and that effort will be critical to winning in November. Kendrick is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the infighting between Governor Crist, Speaker Rubio and the Republican Party and focus on what he does best – fighting for people and being a hands-on leader working hard to improve Florida’s economy,” said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.

Meek responded to a question about the endorsement of the teacher’s union by saying “I recognize the fact there are Republican and independent teachers in the state. I spearheaded a number of pro-teacher/student initiatives in the state legislature and in Congress.” Crist clearly hopes to grab the endorsement of the teacher’s union, having vetoed the right-wing bill out of the state legislature which would have increased class size. “I believe a supermajority of public educators will be voting for me,” Meek said.