Key Republicans in Texas are alarmed by Sen. John Cornyn's decision, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to endorse Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in a contested Senate race 15 months before the GOP primary.
"If they're going to do it in Florida, what's to stop them from doing it everywhere?" a Texas Republican source told me late Wednesday. "It's absurd that the NRSC is doing this. It's an insult to the base."
Texas GOP chairwoman Tina Benkiser has not yet commented on the NRSC controversy. However, heat from conservatives in Florida -- including bloggers Doug Hagin and Andrea Shea King -- has caused that state's Republican Party chairman to rescind his previous endorsement of Crist, the St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday night:
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, facing intense and growing backlash over meddling in the U.S. Senate primary, is backing off.
In a letter to party supporters tonight, Greer defends his actions but said the party is now "neutral" in the contest between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio.
John Mercurio of NewsMax reports that Rubio "plans to run an anti-establishment, low-dollar primary campaign":
Minutes after Crist announced his bid, Rubio released a Web ad highlighting Crist’s support for President Obama's economic stimulus package, a position that doesn’t sit well with many GOP primary voters. "True bipartisanship is not 'if you can't beat them, join them,'" the candidate told more than 150 people last week at the Republican Club of South Sarasota. But while Rubio offers a contrast to Crist politically, he said he doesn't plan to run a negative campaign. "I don't have anything against him personally. I don't believe in order for me to win the debate I have to convince you the other guy is a bad person," he said.
Meanwhile, the Broward-Palm Beach New Times reports, the NRSC's endorsement "may have galvanized the party's conservative wing against Crist," sparking an online backlash led by Erick Erickson and John Hawkins. The stakes in this battle between the grassroots and the "Republican Establishment" are clear, as The American Spectator's Larry Thornberry reported from Tampa:
You'll never hear an encouraging word from Crist on any conservative social issue. He's pro-abortion and thinks marriage-like legal arrangements between homosexuals are fine. He recently put a liberal Democrat on the Florida Supreme Court. In Crist's speeches, conservatives will wait in vain to hear any of their principles promoted. What they hear are endless lullabies about "bipartisanship," "diversity," and other warm-sounding, non-sequiturs from the Democratic hymn book. These are just the most actionable of Crist's sins against conservative principles.
Further developments are likely today. Stay tuned.
UPDATE 5:20 a.m.: Things are happening so fast it's hard to keep up, and the Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger missed the news about Crist rescinding the state GOP's endorsement of Crist. But the Ledger does capture the essence of the grassroots complaint:
"I thought the idea is for real Republicans to vote on primary day, not for so-called party leaders to tell people who to vote for," said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach Republican Party, one of several local clubs asking the state party to stay out of primaries.
The question at stake, according to Republican activist Aaron Marks of The Next Right, is "Who ultimately controls the GOP, the grassroots or the machine?"
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