[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/25/art.getty.crist.jpg caption="Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to abandon the Republican Party and run for Senate as an independent sets up an exciting and unpredictable race."]Tampa, Florida (CNN) - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to abandon the Republican Party and run for Senate as an independent, expected to be made official at a St. Petersburg campaign event Thursday, marks a stunning turnaround for a politician who just over a year ago was heralded as one of the GOP's brightest young talents.
But Thursday's rally also represents a general election kick-off for what is now one of the most entertaining and unpredictable races of the midterm election year, a battle between three viable statewide candidates.
"This is unprecedented in Florida, and I would say unprecedented in the country," said Justin Sayfie, the editor of the SayfieReview.com, an online clearinghouse for Florida political news.
Crist will be hunting for votes in the nation's fourth largest state along with Democrat Kendrick Meek and Republican Marco Rubio, whose small government message has rallied conservatives to his side over the last year and turned him into a celebrity of sorts among Republicans.