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GOP Chair Greer Still Fighting Off Internal Opposition

A week after he was given a vote of confidence by party leaders, Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer was back on the hot seat Thursday with a petition circulating among party leaders calling for his ouster.

Leaders of the drive against Greer said as many as 60 party officials had added their name to the call for a special meeting at next month’s annual Florida Republican Party huddle in Orlando if the chairman doesn’t agree to step down before then.

At the meeting, opponents want a secret ballot to be set that would allow the party’s roughly 250 executive committee-members to rescind Greer’s election last January to a second, two-year term.

While Greer and the Florida GOP steadily rail against the Obama administration, the Republican chairman seems to be sharing the president’s downward trajectory in opinion polls. Greer was elected by 77 percent of party leaders last year – but now almost monthly is fending off demands for his ouster.

“He’s not going to be stepping down,” Florida Republican Party spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta told the News Service of Florida on Thursday.

But opponents are already envisioning life after Greer – with former House Speaker Allan Bense of Panama City being promoted as a possible successor. Bense, who chairs the party’s Victory 2010 fund-raising committee, told the News Service he’s trying to stay out of the intra-party fight.

“I’m just focused on 2010, and that’s all,” Bense said.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who picked Greer from political obscurity – he was vice-chairman of the Oviedo City Council – to become Republican chairman following his 2006 election, apparently is sticking by his ally and former Central Florida fund-raiser.

“He’s very confident in Jim,” said Erik Eikenberg, Crist’s U.S. Senate campaign manager. “He’s not asking him to step aside.”

With political heat already rising, Greer last week drew a strong vote of confidence from the state party’s executive board – with the panel voting 25-2 to approve his job performance during the party’s quarterly meeting in Tallahassee.

But those signing onto the new letter opposing Greer diminish that vote as engineered by the chairman and his supporters at a relatively sparsely attended meeting.

“The vote was stacked to help Greer,” said Lindsay Harrington, a former legislator and now state committeeman from Charlotte County. “A lot of people didn’t know this was going to happen until it did.”

The Tallahassee vote came after party budget officials provided a summary – but no details – on party spending, concluding that the Florida Republican Party had almost $1.4 million cash-on-hand this month, even as campaign fundraising aimed at next year’s elections continued to prove strong.

But party vice-chairman Allen Cox, who is circulating the letter calling for Greer’s ouster, sees party finances differently. Cox was stripped of his post as budget committee chairman Wednesday night after Greer accused him of sending a budget document to the St. Petersburg Times that indicated the party this year was $4 million over-budget in spending on travel, staff and consultants.

Cox said that he e-mailed the budget document at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday and that by 7:30 p.m., Greer had convened a conference call of the party’s executive board.

“By 7:55 p.m., I got an e-mail that I was fired as chairman of the budget committee,” Cox said, acknowledging that the accusation against him stemmed from leaking confidential party documents.

Cox said that although he remains as vice-chairman of the party, he doesn’t want the leadership reins. He called Bense the “perfect person” to assume the chairman’s job on an interim basis – with the idea that he’d serve until the next regular election of a party boss in January 2012.

Not everyone in the party is trying to push Greer aside, and some say the public nature of the move against him is hurting the party.

"I find it hard to believe that we're only one week removed from a confidence vote and the same crowd of critics is bringing all this up again," said Jason Brodeur, Republican chairman in Greer's home Seminole County. "I'm not a fan of dragging these intra-party things out so much in the open. I think the party is doing just as well as we have ever done."

At least part of the division within the party stems from Crist’s bid for U.S. Senate, rivaling former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is the favorite of many within the Florida GOP’s more conservative wing.

Cox, though, said the dispute is rooted in Greer’s freespending. Al Hoffman, a Southwest Florida builder and former ambassador to Portugal, has called for Greer to resign, saying that he is hurting party fund-raising.

“A significant number of the grassroots leaders have just had enough of this blatant spending,” Cox said.

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