Gov. Charlie Crist, running as an independent, holds a narrow lead in the three-way Florida Senate race, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. The race is still very close and Crist’s fate might rest on who wins the Democratic primary August 24: Kendrick Meek or Jeff Greene.

Quinnipiac (6/1-7)
Kendrick Meek (D) – 17%
Marco Rubio (R) – 33%
Charlie Crist (I) – 37%
DK/NA – 11%

Jeff Greene (D) – 14%
Marco Rubio (R) – 33%
Charlie Crist (I) – 40%
DK/NA – 11

If Greene manages to win the primary, some of the Democratic vote shifts to Crist, according to the poll. That small shift could be decisive.

Looking at the cross tabs, Crist’s support is built on a strong base of independents, significant percentages of Democrats and, to a lesser degree, Republicans.

In a three-way race with Meek, Crist gets 28 percent of Republicans, 37 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents. Against Rubio and Greene, Crist gets 28 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents. By contrast, Rubio gets just 7 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents in the Meek matchup and 6 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independents with Greene in the race.

As the race starts to focus more on issues (like what party Crist would caucus with), Crist’s challenge is going to be juggling to keep his bloc of Republican supporters while not alienating his Democratic voters, and vice versa.

I still think Crist’s best and possibly only path to victory is to depict the Democrat in the race as the spoiler. He needs to make the case to the Democratic-leaning electorate that he is the only one who can beat Rubio and that a vote for the Democrat is a wasted vote, helping Rubio win. For that strategy to work, Crist needs to cement his place in the electorate’s mind as the front-runner. If Crist’s poll numbers start slipping, I suspect they will quickly snowball downhill.

If Meek is able to rally all the Democrats to his side with a base-heavy strategy, he could possibly win if Crist and Rubio split the right/center share of the vote. There’s no path for Crist without netting a significant number of the Dem-leaning voters. The outcome of the Democratic primary will be crucial to Crist.