Greer Likely to Remain GOP Chairman
Florida Republican leaders are looking to gather in Orlando this week – presumably for another chorus of kumbaya as they work to ease tensions stemming from the Charlie Crist-Marco Rubio Senate race.
But those who took part in a Thursday conference call on the same issue say one thing is virtually certain: Chairman Jim Greer will retain the party chairmanship.
“Look, we don’t have the time to bring in anybody new with new staff and everything,” said Ed Kennedy of Broward County, a member of the Republican Executive Committee. “We’ve got elections 12 months away. We’d lose too much time if he quit or was pushed out.”
Greer hasn’t said anything about the phone meeting. But participants said the embattled chairman was contrite about the series of stumbles troubling the party but also perplexed by the level of anger growing within GOP ranks.
“I don’t envy his position at all,” said Orange County Chairman Lew Oliver, who also serves on the executive panel. “It’s awkward when you have a seated governor running for Senate and he’s being opposed by another very viable Republican candidate.”
Republicans in Oliver’s own home county became the latest to side with Rubio in a straw poll – the 10th Florida county to back the former House speaker in his primary fight with Crist.
Rubio won the non-binding contest 211 votes to 27 for Crist.
But even as a number of county leaders are backing Rubio, many of these same officials are blistering Greer for his personal endorsement of the governor. Crist hand-picked Greer to lead the state party within weeks of winning the governor’s race.
Many GOP leaders, though, said the Thursday phone call – and next week’s likely gathering – are helping to soften the bitterness that seems to be coursing through the state party ranks.
Martin County Republican Chairman Mark Klingensmith wasn’t on the call – but said local members generally support Greer. That said, concerns have been building over party spending and arms-length endorsements.
“I don’t think this was necessarily a Crist-Rubio thing,” Klingensmith said. “I think the call was more about talking to the chairman and clearing the air. If that was done, it was a good use of everybody’s time.”
Hillsborough County Chair Deborah Cox-Roush, who accused Greer of violating party rules with his endorsement in a letter signed last week by GOP leaders from eight Florida counties, also praised the air-clearing quality of Thursday’s call – and the potential for more unity emerging next week.
The state party is trying to organize another executive committee meeting Friday in Orlando.
“It’s all about perception,” Cox-Roush said. “We’ve had problems. But everybody took a giant step toward mending the problem by talking.”
Responding to Cox-Roush last week, Greer said he’s personally supporting Crist “because he is a conservative who has fought for the people of Florida every day of his administration.”
Greer also refused to separate himself from party consultant Rich Heffley, who has acknowledged helping build an anti-Rubio website and who has received $250,000 from the state party for work on House and Senate campaigns.
Greer last week also fired field director Tim Nungesser for posting a fake Twitter account aimed at discrediting Brevard County Republican Chairman Jason Steele, who had been put on probation by the state party for “disloyalty” after criticizing Greer and other officials.
While party leaders were talking out their difficulties Thursday – Steele was holding a news conference demanding that Greer resign, accusing him of playing a behind-the-scenes role in what has been termed “Twittergate.”
Greer also has caught heat for posting on the state party website news that former Gov. Jeb Bush had endorsed Attorney General Bill McCollum for governor – moments after state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, announced her candidacy for governor. Dockery accused Greer of taking sides.