No hugs for Charlie Crist from his former GOP supporters

Miami HeraldApril 24, 2010 

Fair-weather friends? In politics, they're more like rainy-day assassins.

And with a thundercloud named Marco Rubio lurking over Gov. Charlie Crist's bid for the U.S. Senate, the Republican political establishment is doing its best to take him out.

Crist's ex-supporters will protest that he abandoned the GOP long before the party abandoned him, and there is truth in that. But the real reason many are fleeing from Crist as if he's personally spewing Icelandic levels of volcanic ash has more to do with their own necks than the governor's head and heart.

Take the arm of the Republican Party that oversees Senate campaigns. The National Republican Senate Committee didn't mind that Crist hugged the Democratic president and his economic stimulus package — hell, he could have pinched both of Barack Obama's cheeks — as long as he was a surefire winner and an obscenely successful fundraiser who could help the party take back Congress. Remember, the oh-so heinous hug took place in February 2009, three months before the NRSC breathlessly endorsed Crist's campaign.

Every time Crist's poll numbers dipped and Rubio's rose over the next year, a leading GOP senator would walk back the party's endorsement another step. Until this week, when — now that Crist looks like a surefire loser — the party went so far as to suggest the governor should quit rather than run as an independent candidate.

Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack also bailed, citing his "unsupportable" veto of a bill that would have largely taken away teacher tenure. "Your veto I believe undermines our education system in Florida and the principles for which I have always stood," wrote Mack, a registered lobbyist in Washington, to his former political protege.

Funny, I don't recall Mack making a peep during the weeks of hue and cry over the bill before the veto. Was it just a pretext for yanking his good name from the letterhead of a floundering campaign?

Crist foes have said for years that his support was an inch thick and a mile wide. They were right.

"This should be an awakening to elected officials," said Miami ex-lobbyist Rodney Barreto, one of the few Republicans who said he would stand by the governor even if he runs without the party label. "I always get a kick out of hearing politicians describe someone as `one of my best friends.' I laugh because these are political relationships."

That's why former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's endorsement of Rubio was viewed skeptically by some. The former Massachusetts governor could use some of Rubio's conservative fairy dust at a time when the GOP is taking a hard line against a new healthcare law with awkward resemblances to Romney's signature reform.

It takes a lot of courage to endorse someone who leads by more than 20 points in the polls. Get in line. Next up: the undersecretary of agriculture from the first Bush administration.

The endorsements keep flying in despite newspaper reports that the Internal Revenue Service has begun a preliminary inquiry into Rubio's potential abuse of an American Express card issued by the state GOP. Who cares that he used party donations to fix the family minivan as long as his poll numbers rock?

From the increasingly large crowd of fair-weather Crist friends, came this gem from state Rep. Tom Grady of Naples:

"Regardless, I continue to value our friendship," Grady wrote in his widely distributed resignation from the Crist campaign. "Let's be sure that does not change. Ann and I look forward to that dinner we've been planning with you and your lovely bride, Carole, and I hope we can do that soon."

Rain check.

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