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Can Crist Survive As A Green Republican?

In recent years, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has been, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Connecticut's Jodi Rell, one of the very few truly green Republicans on the national landscape. And I'm not even grading on a curve; Crist really does have a stellar track record. Back in 2007, he signed a series of executive orders to reduce Florida's greenhouse-gas emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, with even stronger targets for electric utilities and state agencies. He's also been instrumental in crafting a deal with U.S. Sugar to buy back and restore parts of the Everglades. (True, the deal's been pared back due to the state's budget crisis, but Crist still appears quite committed to the project.)

But how long can Crist stay an environmental Republican? At the moment, he's gunning for Florida's Senate seat and being challenged in the primary by the far more conservative Marco Rubio, who's taken to savaging the governor's green tendencies (not to mention mocking Crist's appearances with Sheryl Crow at climate events). And, as Alex Kaplun observes in Greenwire today, the primary's taking its toll on Crist:

The most recent example of a shift: his cancellation of a high-profile state climate summit—an event that was expected to bring climate activists from across the country. Crist cited cost as the reason for the summit's cancellation, though the anticipated event was also the subject of heavy criticism from Rubio and other conservatives. ...

Crist has not jettisoned his support of regulations on emissions, but he did recently give a nod to GOP claims that climate legislation represents a major tax on industry. When asked about the claim, Crist told the Miami Herald, "Well, it may be [a tax]. That may be accurate."

Draper of Audubon said that kind of statement may hint at cooling from Crist toward the specific climate bill currently being considered in Washington, though he still believes that Crist generally supports action on climate change. "He seems like he's moved on the federal climate bill," he said. "It seemed to be an attempt to kind of distance himself from the current legislative proposal and to say Florida would not benefit as much as it should from any legislative proposal."

The big litmus test, though, will be who Crist appoints as a placeholder to serve out the rest of retiring Senator Mel Martinez's term. The odds are good that Crist's pick will cast a vote on a major climate bill in the Senate later this year. Environmental groups are already pressuring Crist to appoint someone who reflects his views on energy and global warming. But, of course, if Crist appoints a green Republican who votes for a climate bill, he risks the wrath of the GOP base in next year's primaries. So what's it going to be?