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Republicans Wage Scorched-Earth Campaign Against Crist

The Florida Republican Party stepped-up pressure Wednesday on breakaway Gov. Charlie Crist, with contributors demanding refunds from his U.S. Senate campaign and GOP leaders even hinting he derailed an eBay auction of his portrait.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush also officially weighed in Wednesday. As expected, Bush endorsed Crist’s Republican rival, Marco Rubio, underscoring what emerged as the day’s theme: the allegation that the governor is a liar – and maybe even a thief.

The attacks coincided with the one-year anniversary of Rubio announcing his U.S. Senate campaign – opening what then looked like a long-shot bid for the nomination against the established Republican governor.

“Washington is broken, and Marco Rubio is the only candidate in this race that I trust to help fix it,” Bush said in a statement released by the Rubio campaign.

The Florida Republican Party also targeted Crist, unveiling a website titled “Can’t Trust Charlie,” http://www.canttrustcharlie.com/.

Subtitled, “You Can’t Spell Charlie Without `Lie’,” the site makes it apparent that Florida Republicans are waging a scorched-earth campaign against Crist and his no-party-affiliated candidacy for U.S. Senate. With a new Rasmussen Reports poll showing Crist narrowly leading in a three-way race against Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek, the Republican party website rips the governor for his embrace of President Obama and ties to ousted state party chairman Jim Greer.

Twenty prominent Republican contributors also sent Crist a letter demanding a refund of thousands of dollars in contributions to his campaign made before his decision last week to split with the GOP. The letter was coordinated by Al Hoffman, newly named chairman of the Rubio campaign.

“Charlie, that is not your money,” Hoffman and the others wrote, noting that Crist has $7.6 million on hand in his campaign, according to the most recent federal campaign reports.

“That money represents 7.6 million promises you broke to the people who entrusted their money to you in the hopes that they were supporting a leader who would stand on the common values all Republicans share,” the disaffected donors wrote.

Among them: Winter Park financier Phil Handy, Panama City hotelier Charlie Hilton, former Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, and Jacksonville businessmen and GOP fund-raisers, Tom Petway, John Rood and Mike Hightower.

Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Sid Dinerstein was among those signing the letter, although he didn’t contribute to Crist, offering his first donation this week to Rubio.

“I’m trying to show sympathy for the people of this party who gave money,” Dinerstein said. “I strongly feel he has a moral obligation to give it back. I think he will, he doesn’t need this kind of static.”

The Crist campaign did not respond to requests for comment from the News Service of Florida.

But Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat, predicted last week that Republicans would turn fiercely on Crist. “Listen, the Republicans here have declared war on Gov. Crist, there’s not question about it,” Gelber said. “They’ve got a room somewhere with a bunch of guys who are figuring out how to torture him.”

The state GOP even suggested Crist may have played a role in the removal of an eBay auction of the governor’s portrait that had been housed at the party headquarters.

Online bidding had driven the price of the portrait to $6,200 by Tuesday evening. But the auction was halted when eBay raised concerns about its political shading, among other issues, said Florida GOP spokeswoman Katie Betta. When the issues were resolved, Betta said a new auction was started – but the $6,200 offer is gone and the bidding has begun again at $1.

Betta pointed out that Crist’s campaign has emerged as a sponsored link on eBay and hinted that may have had something to do with the shutdown of the initial auction.

“It certainly is an interesting coincidence,” she said.

Florida Republican Chairman John Thrasher said the multi-barreled blast at Crist stemmed mainly from “a lot of pent-up anger from the base.”

“The base feels betrayed,” Thrasher told the News Service. “It’ll fade and we’ll get back to what we need to do.”

But Thrasher acknowledged Crist may be the beneficiary of an early boost from his no-party move, reflected in the Rasmussen poll.

“He’s getting a blip and a bounce out of this,” Thrasher said. “But that won’t last. I’m really not trying to bash Charlie Crist. But our members are angry.”

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