Washington Prowler

Heavy-Handedness Backfires

Mitt leaves Martinez and Crist no choice. Also: Howard Baker, Fred and John. Plus: Beginnings of a comeback.

By 1.27.08

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GOING TOO FAR
In the past week both Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist wavered on their promised endorsements for Sen. John McCain, before finally having their fill of the heavy-handed arm-twisting of the Mitt Romney campaign.

"It finally got to the point for both of them that they just got fed up with the constant harassment," says a source close to both men who has worked for them as a political consultant. "They weren't going to endorse Romney and under the right circumstances, one or both of them might have chosen to sit the primary out, but the Romney people just made it intolerable."

In the middle of last week, it appeared that both Martinez and Crist would sit out what has become the battleground state for the Republican nomination for President.

It is believed that the Romney campaign has been able to use its candidate's unfettered wealth to run a successful absentee ballot program, something the other campaigns have not been able to do as well. Those absentee ballots may swing Romney to victory, and keeping Martinez and Crist on the sidelines was part of the strategy for victory.

Another subtext: the diminishment of Rudy Giuliani in a state that he had pegged as his pivot for Super Tuesday. He didn't have a shot at either endorsement, and his campaign has long been warring with the Crist crowd, in part because after Giuliani worked hard for Crist's election as governor, he was repaid by having a Crist staffer leak to the McCain camp an important Giuliani fundraising PowerPoint presentation early last year.

The Romney camp appears to have picked up much of the ideologically conservative support from the Thompson team, including the bulk of his "Lawyers for Thompson" operation. But it doesn't appear that any members of Thompson's longstanding inner circle who started the "Draft Thompson" movement about a year ago will sign on with another campaign.

HOWARD'S ENDS
Former Sen. Fred Thompson has made it clear that he will not endorse another candidate in the near future, if at all. Last week, staffers for Sen. Tom Coburn were on Capitol Hill encouraging others to sign on with Coburn's candidate, John McCain, saying that Thompson was endorsing the candidate. Coburn, who months ago had made a promise to Thompson to endorse him but never did so, hasn't spoken to Thompson in months.

One source of the Thompson endorsement rumors is believed to be former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, who has been fielding phone calls about Thompson from other campaigns and media outlets, and has done nothing to tamp down the rumors. "He's enjoying what he knows will be short-lived relevancy," says a member of Baker's law firm in Tennessee. Baker, who was an honorary national chair of the Thompson campaign, officially endorsed McCain on Saturday.

Thompson is expected to speak publicly about his future plans at a later date, and rumors had him and his wife, Jeri, down in Nashville looking at houses over the weekend.

YES, VIRGINIA
Look for former Virginia Gov. George Allen to begin putting in place the light infrastructure for a possible run for governor again. Allen, who traveled with Sen. Fred Thompson in South Carolina, is believed to have some volunteer staffing commitments in place to at least begin the process of setting up a statewide organization for the 2009 gubernatorial elections.

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