With signs mounting that Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) could be about to bolt the Republican Party and run for Senate as an independent, the GOP is in a delicate position of having to figure out just how and when to cut him off — with some politicians getting in early on the act.
National Republican groups have remained mostly mum on how they are walking this tightrope, but it’s clear they are starting to react to Crist’s performance in the Republican primary — and his likely exit from it. Perhaps the single biggest development was yesterday, when the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which originally endorsed Crist for the Republican nomination last year, circulated a private e-mail asking recipients to tell Crist to drop out –Â effectively an un-endorsement of his candidacy.
“We believe there is zero chance Governor Crist continues running in the Republican primary,” wrote NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer. “It [is] our view that if Governor Crist believes he cannot win a primary then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day.”“I think if somebody had endorsed Crist it would be a problem,” said one adviser to a potential GOP presidential candidate. The source said that once people get on board with Rubio, it won’t matter too much exactly when they did it.
Part of the problem here is that Crist has not made a final decision on going independent, though he has certainly broadcast some signals about it — thus leaving Republicans in a holding pattern for now.
But should Crist ultimately do it, the source said that the people who could really be in a bind would be any GOP politicians who had previously endorsed Crist. “If he runs as an independent, anyone that’s endorsed him is immediately gonna be asked, are you un-endorsing him? And they’re gonna be put in a box, because then it looks like they’re concerned with party, rather than the character and principles of the person they endorsed. It’s not a good situation for them.”
Over the last few days, after Crist vetoed a key Republican-backed education bill that would have eliminated tenure for new teachers, more and more Republicans have been lining up against Crist or for Rubio:
â¢ Newt Gingrich came out against the veto right after it happened. “It is very disappointing that Governor Crist abandoned the children of Florida and sided with the teachers union,” Gingrich said. “Florida had a real chance to reform education on behalf of children.”
â¢ Mitt Romney formally endorsed Rubio on Monday, and said that Crist should not go independent: “It sure would be an enormous mistake to do something that would make it easier for Congressman Meek [the likely Democratic nominee] to be the next senator from Florida.”
â¢ Tim Pawlenty criticized the veto of the education bill: “Well, I’ll just speak to the veto…that piece of legislation that was passed by the Florida Legislature was one of the most boldest, most aggressive in my view best pieces of education reform legislation in the country…and it was extremely disappointing that he vetoed it.”
â¢Â House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) endorsed Rubio this morning: “There is not question the voters in florida need a real choice and a real change in direction.”
â¢ Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who endorsed Crist last year, has declared that he would not back Crist as an independent: “I support Republicans.”