Greer Hug May Haunt Thrasher
Former Massachusetts Governor and 2008 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is coming to town today for a fundraiser. It's an invitation-only event to help State Senator John Thrasher win a full term this year, after capturing his seat in a tough special election last Fall. Thrasher's campaign said Romney will serve as honorary event chairman for the fundraiser and will also hold an invitation-only meet-and-greet.
Most political observers consider Thrasher a near lock for re-election, with the biggest wildcard being a rumor that former WJXT anchorwoman Deborah Gianoulis may challenge him as a Democrat.
Also in the running right now is Charles Perniciaro, a beaches dermatologist who recently changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican and filed to challenge Thrasher in the August 24 primary.
While Perniciaro will likely be outspent by a large margin, he does have some base of support from the teacher's union. They're furious at Thrasher's attempt to pass a bill that would have worked towards linking teacher performance and pay. It was a bill that was popular among most Republicans and passed the legislature only to be vetoed by the newly independent Governor Charlie Crist.
Aside from his trouble with the teacher's union, Thrasher's biggest problem may be... a hug.
Since joining the State Senate, Thrasher has been spending a good chunk of his time serving double-duty. He was elected as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida earlier this year, following the political demise of Jim Greer -- dubbed "Diamond Jim" by critics who've accused him of mishandling and outright stealing party funds. Greer was arrested earlier this month after being indicted on six felony charges: organized scheme to defraud, money laundering, and four counts of grand theft.
Following Greer's resignation in January, Thrasher was elected to chair the party and "right the ship" -- something most seem to feel he has done. The party has cut all ties to Greer, audited their books, released controversial credit card records, purged most of Greer's team, raised a significant amount of new money and is working to put the whole mess behind them.
However, the Perniciaro campaign has been circulating a photo of Thrasher going in for a hug with the disgraced Greer.
And in politics, hugs can matter.
It was a hug (George W. Bush) that is largely credited with causing Joe Lieberman to lose his Democratic primary in Connecticut. Another "embrace" -- between President Obama and Charlie Crist -- was used heavily by the Rubio campaign with great success. In Pennsylvania's recent Senate primary, dual hugs (one with Obama, one with Bush) helped define Arlen Specter as a party-switching opportunist. He lost.
Perniciaro notes that it's not just the hug -- it's what it represents. In fact, the candidate charges that it was far "more than just a hug."
"To get then RPOF chairman Jim Greer out of the way, Chairman Thrasher offered to pay him $123,000 of our money," says Perniciaro. "[Thrasher] promised to tell us all the wasted and stolen party money was for legitimate expenses - and to say Greer was a great chairman!"
Perniciaro is making reference to a March story that revealed the party had made numerous concessions to get Greer to leave peacefully. Part of the deal was a generous severance package worth $123,750. However, because of his criminal behavior, Greer was denied payment of the money and has sued the party for breach of contract.
In Senate District 8, the momentum is clearly on Thrasher's side. But in a political year when we've seen that anything can happen, the Thrasher campaign isn't taking anything for granted.
When it was revealed that Perniciaro had recently switched parties, Thrasher spokewoman Sarah Bascom slammed Perniciaro's campaign as an "insult to voters."
On August 24, Republican voters will get the chance to decide. But in the meantime, don't expect either of these candidates to pull any punches.