Wistful Cornyn: I’m ‘Honor-Bound’ To Stick With Crist Endorsement

Sen. John Cornyn sounded downright regretful today when explaining why he’s sticking to his early endorsement of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, despite a surge from conservative darling former state House Speaker Marco Rubio as the two slug it out in the Republican primary.

Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters today in a briefing that he won’t campaign against Rubio, despite having endorsed Crist early in the process “before this became a real contest.” But was there a tinge of regret for choosing Crist, who has tanked in the polls and could lose to the conservative upstart this summer after a long primary.

“I’m not going to do anything to change that. I think I’m honor-bound to leave it as it is. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be spending any money in the primary, doesn’t mean we’re going to be saying anything bad about Marco Rubio,” Cornyn said. He complimented Rubio’s strength and said he didn’t mind the Republican was raising money in the key presidential primary state of South Carolina.The NRSC chairman said the GOP is advantaged by both strong candidates and said he thinks either of them would beat Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) in a general election. He said he hopes all of the nominees in contested races emerge “not bloodied and not broke.”

“If I can reiterate Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment at some point I probably will,” he said. “I don’t think that time has come yet.”

Cornyn said the recruiting process is a “continuum.” The Crist endorsement early in the game came after former Gov. Jeb Bush opted not to run for Senate, and was “selfishly” due in part to Crist’s ability to be a fundraising powerhouse so the NRSC wouldn’t have to spend money. Crist at the time was the most popular Republican at the time.

“Charlie Crist seemed like the ideal candidate,” Cornyn said. “I didn’t want to have to spend any money in Florida if we didn’t have to.”

The NRSC briefing was a bit of a boasting session for Cornyn, who said his candidates are leading in the majority of the tough races. He sees GOP pickups in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and potentially Colorado, thanks in part due to Democratic primaries. But Republican candidates have their fair share of primary challengers, many coming from within the tea party movement.

Asked about the tea party’s strength in Nevada, Cornyn declined to endorse any of the candidates facing off in that primary. He said he assumes the Republicans are reaching out to the tea party candidates to capture some of the energy within the movement, which he said is an “important and significant development” in national politics. He said he prefers the candidates run in Republican primaries instead of as independents in the fall.

Cornyn said he thinks the battle for the open Senate seat in Missouri will be the prime battleground this fall. In that race, Robin Carnahan will be pitted against Rep. Roy Blunt. While each is attempting to run from Washington in a year where incumbents are unpopular, they are both political insiders coming from the two best-known political families in the Show-Me State, Cornyn said.

He thinks the state will be a bellwether like Ohio because Sen. John McCain won it during the 2008 presidential election and credited the state party’s strength on the ground.

He also touched briefly on other races.

Arkansas – Cornyn said he thinks Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) will prevail in her primary challenge with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and noted there are 10 candidates interested in the seat leading up to this week’s filing deadline for the primary.

“That’s one of our best chances at pickup,” Cornyn said.

New York – The GOP doesn’t have a candidate to challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), but Cornyn said there are “a number of names that have been bubbling up. I think we will have a significant, substantial candidate.”

Wisconsin – Former Bush Cabinet official Tommy Thompson is still contemplating a run against Sen. Russ Feingold (D).

Washington – Cornyn said Dino Rossi, who lost in a razor-thin margin for governor in 2004, is considering a bid there against Sen. Patty Murray (D).