The parallels between ex-Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer and national chairman Michael Steele are as creepy as the website for the lesbian bondage club where the GOP dropped $2,000 for a good time.
Both men were unlikely choices, elected without a reservoir of goodwill. Gov. Charlie Crist steamrollered the previous chairwoman -- and her supporters -- to install Greer, a no-name councilman from a no-name Central Florida town. Steele beat out more-established party leaders in an arduous voting process to become the national party's first black chairman.
Both men consistently put the GOP in the headlines for reasons other than winning elections. Greer's most well-known blooper was when he assailed President Barack Obama's address to the nation's schoolchildren as a "use of taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda." Steele's gaffes could fill up the rest of this column so you'll have to trust me.
And both men earned reputations for being cavalier with party money.
Greer was lambasted for traveling with entourages and chartering planes. Steele was pilloried following revelations that a staffer spent party donations at a West Hollywood strip club.
"Two showmen who love to give quotable quotes with huge egos," observed Republican fundraiser Ana Navarro of Miami.
The question in both of these cases: Will their conduct affect their party's bottom line in the November election?
The controversy surrounding the state party has grown beyond Greer to include legislative leaders who he says struck a secret severance deal with him and then reneged on it. One of the lawmakers, state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, denied a deal and got elected state party chairman -- conveniently before the settlement became public.
"I don't think anyone votes for someone because they trust or distrust Jim Greer, trust or distrust John Thrasher or trust or distrust Michael Steele," Navarro said. "At the end of the day, all politics is local.
"That being said, details matter, organization matters," she added. "A well-funded organization running on all cylinders can make a difference in a tight race. I think one of the reasons [presidential nominee John] McCain lost Florida was that the Republican Party was not the lean, mean fighting machine it was under [former Gov.] Jeb Bush."
Jeff Garcia, a Democratic political strategist based in Miami, also sees potential consequences for the GOP scandals.
"It doesn't necessarily trickle down, but it could mean less money for Republicans if they are bickering when they should be fundraising," he said. "If the Republicans end up spending less, they could pick up less House seats."
One candidate who stands to lose credibility in the state party fiasco is Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Republican front-runner for governor. As calls mounted late last year for Greer to step aside, McCollum stayed quiet.
After Greer resigned, and newspapers revealed questionable spending by party credit cardholders and the executive director's side fundraising gig, McCollum continued to downplay the scandal. He brushed off demands for a criminal investigation and said the party could police itself.
But in recent days, Greer's lawyers have said McCollum was fully aware of the backroom negotiations surrounding his resignation. McCollum, the state's top lawyer, has refused to recuse himself from a criminal investigation into party spending.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Beth Reinhard is the political writer for The Miami Herald.