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Cornyn Makes Clear NRSC Won’t Play in Florida Primary

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) on Monday all but expressed his regret for getting behind Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) last May in the Sunshine State’s open-seat Senate race.

“I endorsed Gov. Crist early on, really before this became a real [primary] contest,” Cornyn said at a press conference at NRSC headquarters. “I’m not going to do anything to change that. I think I’m honor-bound to leave it as it is. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be spending any money in the primary. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be saying anything bad about” his primary challenger, former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R).

That seems to be a far cry from how Crist described the primary on May 12, when he released a statement announcing that he was endorsing Crist.

“Governor Crist is a dedicated public servant and a dynamic leader, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will provide our full support to ensure that he is elected the next United States Senator from Florida,” Cornyn said 10 months ago.

Crist entered the Senate primary as the unquestioned favorite, but since that time Rubio’s campaign has caught fire among conservative activists. The governor now finds himself trailing Rubio in several polls and, despite Crist’s massive cash-on-hand advantage, Rubio appears to be in the driver’s seat.

On Monday, Cornyn seemed to blame himself for jumping into the Florida primary too early.

After former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) passed on the race in early 2009, Cornyn said he looked around the state to find the most popular Republican who was also a good fundraiser, and Crist was the most obvious choice.

“Selfishly, given the limited resources we have and the national scope of our responsibilities, I didn’t want to spend any money in Florida if we didn’t have to help. So Charlie Crist seemed like the ideal candidate,” Cornyn said. “This had nothing to do with Marco Rubio, who I subsequently met and have a lot of respect for.”

Cornyn said Crist’s entry into the race last May had an effect on the Democratic field by prompting state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink — a candidate that Cornyn described as a “powerhouse” in Florida — to pass on the race and run for governor instead.

Crist’s candidacy “shaped the playing field in a way that advantages us regardless of who wins the primary,” Cornyn said.

In recent weeks, some conservatives have wondered whether Crist may switch parties or run as an Independent rather than risk losing to Rubio in the GOP primary. Crist’s campaign has vigorously denied that as a possibility.

When asked about the possibility of Crist leaving the party, Cornyn said he has “heard nothing to confirm that at all.”

A few other highlights from Monday’s press conference, in which the chairman pointed out the perils of Democrats’ health care strategy, included Cornyn being asked for his take on a controversial Republican National Committee fundraising presentation that openly acknowledged a plan to stoke the politics of fear.

“I frankly didn’t know anything about it until I saw it reported in the paper,” Cornyn said of the RNC presentation, which pictured President Barack Obama as the Joker from “Batman,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Cruella de Vil and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as Scooby Doo. “It was something that if they had a chance to do it over again they would do it differently. That was certainly my impression.”

Cornyn also said he hopes that after her losing gubernatorial bid, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) will remain in the Senate until her term is up in 2012, rather than resign at some point this year as she had previously indicated.

Hutchison “has not talked to us about her future plans. I think virtually all of her colleagues would like her” to finish her term, Cornyn said. “I’ve made it clear I would like her to stick around.”

One Republican Senator who disagrees with the NRSC chairman on that point is Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.). DeMint is already stumping for Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R) in what he expects will be a special election to replace Hutchison.

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