With Florida Gov. Charlie Crist poised to switch from Republican to “No Party Affiliated” and run for the U.S. Senate as a rogue candidate, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said that his actions should give GOP leaders second thoughts about getting involved in contested races before the nomination process.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn made this observation at a standing-room-only press breakfast Thursday morning hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. For regulars at the Monitor sessions, the setting was ironic: During his last appearance at the same breakfast in May of ’09, NRSC chairman Cornyn made it clear his group wanted Crist as the Senate nominee in Florida. At the time, Cornyn said of Rubio “he has a bright future” and should consider seeking another office. Cornyn’s own political action committee ALAMO PAC later gave the Florida governor $10,000.
Regarding the $10,000 to Crist from his PAC, Cornyn said “I certainly will request the money back and the process of other [Republican] contributors who want their money back is under way and will continue.”
Cornyn’s remarks came as Crist was expected to announce later Thursday that he was dropping out of the Republican Senate primary and would run as an independent, next to the ballot line “No Party Affliated” as required by Florida election law.
Looking back at his previous statements and actions regarding Florida, Cornyn said: “You know, recruiting candidates is a dynamic process. I tried to recruit [former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush to run for the Senate and after he told me he wouldn’t run. I looked around for the most popular candidate I could find.” That was Crist, he recalled, and when the governor became a candidate last year, “he had a huge lead in the polls.”
Obviously, all of this has changed dramatically. And Cornyn cited a lesson learned for national Republican leaders.
“In this environment, it is not necessarily helpful to have national party leaders endorse candidates before the nomination process is over,” he said. “Instead of a ‘Contract With America,’ voters across the country want a ‘Contract From America.’ They want to be listened to, not lectured to.”
Cornyn’s fresh conclusion about pre-primary involvement come after a year in which the NRSC and other national GOP committees have been roundly criticized for trying to recruit candidates in races where conservatives were already running. In Pennsylvania, for example, Cornyn and other party leaders were accused of trying to recruit moderate former Gov. Tom Ridge to run in the Senate primary against conservative stalwart Pat Toomey. There has also been critical suggestions that Cornyn’s NRSC favored Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson over Dr. Rand Paul in the Senate primary (At this morning’s breakfast, Cornyn took pains to say he and the NRSC would “do all we can to help Paul if he’s the nominee.”).
The Texan also revealed that, through intermediaries, he had tried to convince Crist to either “stay in the [Republican] primary, drop out and endorse Rubio, and then challenge [Florida’s Democratic Sen.] Bill Nelson in 2012.” Although Cornyn said he had not spoken directly to Crist, he said “we traded calls and then I finally gave up.”
Crist’s taking the route he is headed toward today, Cornyn added, “does irreparable damage to his future prospects.”