Gov. Charlie Crist‘s handpicked party chief, who once vowed to replace “divisive partisan rhetoric with common-sense solutions” has gone off the grid.
His hard-right turn began when he demanded a “stop to taxpayer-funded abortions,” even though none of the healthcare bills in Congress call for such a thing. Then he invited Carrie Prejean, a dethroned beauty queen best known for standing up to a gay blogger on national television, to headline a party convention.
And for the final flourish that thrust him into Rush Limbaugh‘s arms, Greer said Obama’s first-day-of-school speech this week aimed to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.”
Damn you Jon Stewart and your ill-timed vacation!
In his absence, Greer became a cable-news commando, raising his own profile but delivering questionable benefits to Florida Republicans. He was roundly mocked by editorial boards and even the conservative stewards of the Wall Street Journal, the consensus being that telling kids to do their homework and stay in school was more Bill Cosby than Bill Ayers.
“Isn’t that a joke,” said Al Hoffman, a major Republican fundraiser from Fort Myers. “I think Greer is doing a big disservice to the party whipping up the facts like that. . .There are a lot of Republicans sitting on the sidelines scratching their noodles and saying, `What are we doing with a guy like this leading our party?’ ”
It’s probably not a coincidence that Greer’s pivot comes as Crist is running for the Senate against a conservative insurgent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio. Even Crist had to admit Obama’s speech would have “an acceptable message by anybody’s standards.”
The publicity bender followed his stunt at last month’s convention when he cut up an American Express card to quash an uproar over suspicious charges billed to the party by former House Speaker Ray Sansom. Some donors, including Hoffman, were unmoved.
“It was like saying, `I promise not to waste any more money, at least through American Express,’ ” said Hoffman, who has stopped writing checks to the state party.
Donor dropoff won’t hurt Crist, who is shattering campaign finance records in his bid for federal office. The man with the most at stake is Bill McCollum, whose run for governor depends on party resources. (In 2006, Crist put about $19 million in his gubernatorial account and twice that in the party’s coffers.)
“Ultimately, what is important to me is the governor’s race, and every minute spent talking about the president’s speech is off the target,” said Broward Republican Party Chairman Chip LaMarca. “If donors are turned off, party surrogates have to work twice as hard.”
Between April and June, the Florida Democratic Party outraised the state GOP for the first time during the same fundraising period since 1996. Although Greer has promised more transparency, the party won’t disclose how much its Statesman’s Dinner netted last month, leading to speculation that the GOP will continue to lag behind.
Before Crist made him chairman, Greer was a little known city councilman in Oviedo, an Orlando suburb known for the chickens that roam downtown. Now he can spear media coverage by toying with bids for Congress or national party chairman. (He ruled out both before he had a chance to lose.)
In contrast, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman has kept a low profile since she clumsily handled the presidential candidates’ boycott of the state’s early primary last year. A party leader who scores ratings doesn’t necessarily win elections.