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Mel Martinez to Resign Senate Seat; Charlie Crist to Pull Own Hair Out

Here’s the news. So much for a quiet Friday.

There is absolutely no upside here for Charlie Crist. When you’re running for Senate, and you’re protecting a huge lead, the last thing you need is a wild card like this that can cause people to grow upset with you. Odds are that Crist will take a look at what happened to David Paterson and at least make a decision quickly.

And/but — Crist just doesn’t have a lot of good choices. Since he wants the seat himself beginning in 2011, he can’t appoint someone like Jeb Bush who has equally strong credentials, and he can’t appoint any sitting Representatives and then come back 18 months later and hope to kill their careers. He also presumably won’t want to appoint himself — a moderate Republican senator is going to have two or three really tough votes over the next year and he would have to navigate carefully so as not to re-energize either the Marco Rubio campaign to his right or the Democrats to his left. If Crist does appoint himself, that would suggest to me that he’s really looking more toward 2012 (or 2016) and is sort of going “all-in” on maximizing public exposure and may even try and be a “hero” on health care reform, etc. It would take someone pretty egomaniacal to think that way. Then again, it takes someone pretty egomaniacal to run for President.

In any event, the lack of alternatives is why former governor Bob Martinez (no relation), who has been out of public office for eighteen years, is getting so much buzz right now. He seems like the obvious choice — then again, he’s 74 years old, and was distinctly unpopular by the time he left office, losing his re-election bit to Lawton Chiles by 13 points.

The nearer-term question is whether the Democrats might wind up with someone who could be a potential yes vote on health care — which Martinez almost certainly wouldn’t have been, even though he’d been voting somewhat more moderately since announcing his retirement, including voting to confirm Sonia Sotomayor yesterday. Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up — Crist is arguably still more threatened by Rubio than by any of the Democratic general election candidates — but they nevertheless have something of a freeroll here.

If Democrats really wanted to play hardball and squeeze Crist on this decision, then someone like Robert Wexler could take one for the team and announce he had decided to run for Senate. That’s probably too much risk for too little reward. But don’t be surprised if you see a few bluffs/trial balloons along these lines if Crist takes too long to make his pick.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.