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Why did Crist reject Sotomayor?

"Who are you pandering to? And why now?'' asks the Florida Democratic Party of Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to oppose the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. His Republican Senate rival, Marco Rubio, argues that his position contradicts his record of appointing "liberal'' judges like James Perry, who like Sotomayor, was crititicized by the National Rifle Association.

Indeed, Crist's rejection of Sotomayor -- even though she is likely to be easily confirmed -- was unexpected, especially considering her potentially historic position as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court. In fact, the governor was recently rapped by the state's high court for rejecting a list of judicial nominees because he said it wasn't diverse enough.

The governor's position on Sotomayor risks angering leaders in the Hispanic community, which he failed to win over in his 2006 election despite his party's traditional hold on the fast-growing voting bloc. He''ll need Hispanic support to win a general election in 2010.

But it's the conservative wing of his party that dominates statewide primaries. Though Rubio is not viewed as a major threat, his energetic and passionate defense of conservative principles have gained him more traction that many expected. As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza put it, Crist is taking a "better-safe-than-sorry" approach.

One other thing to consider: Crist's Senate bid was endorsed by Senate MInority Leader Mitch McConnell -- one of only a few senators who have come out against Sotomayor.