Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate Republicans’ campaign chairman who recruited Florida Gov. Charlie Crist into that state’s Senate race, said Thursday Mr. Crist’s fall shows the danger of Washington politicians trying to pick winners and losers in the midst of anti-Washington sentiment.
“In this political environment, it’s not necessarily helpful for candidates running in states to have the national party chairmen endorse them,” Mr. Cornyn, Texas Republican, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he had first tried to recruit former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush into the Senate race and after he took a pass, Mr. Cornyn said he looked at Mr. Crist, saw his approval ratings at stratospheric levels, and figured he was a can’t-miss choice.
But Mr. Crist tumbled in standing, particularly among conservative Republicans, after he embraced President Obama’s stimulus bill early last year. He went from a commanding lead in the Republican primary to substantially trailing former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, a fierce critic of the stimulus package who has emerged as a favorite of the party’s conservatives.
Mr. Crist is scheduled to announce his plans Thursday afternoon, but he has reportedly told aides he’ll bolt the GOP and run as an independent, setting up a three-way race between himself, Mr. Rubio and likely Democratic nominee Rep. Kendrick B. Meek.
Mr. Cornyn said if Mr. Crist does run as an independent he will be asked to refund many campaign contributions, and said the governor will have trouble replenishing his campaign treasury because he’ll have a tough time finding a new base of donor support.
Mr. Crist isn’t the only big-name Republican facing a difficult challenge within the party.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, will have to overcome former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in that state’s primary, while Kentucky Republicans will have to choose between Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Dr. Rand Paul. Some Republicans worry Dr. Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul, the insurgent Texas Republican candidate from the 2008 presidential campaign, could be too divisive a candidate.
Mr. Cornyn said he expects Mr. McCain will win the Arizona primary, while in the Kentucky race, he said the party stands ready to back whoever wins the primary.