LeMieux Is Silent, for Now, on Crist’s Expected Defection

Posted April 28, 2010 at 5:44pm

Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) declined to comment Wednesday evening on the decision of his old boss, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, to leave the GOP and run for Senate this year as an Independent.

LeMieux, whom Crist appointed to the Senate last summer, said he would comment Thursday following the governor’s expected announcement that he will drop his Republican primary campaign against former state Speaker Marco Rubio. But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who backed Rubio long before he became the frontrunner, had some choice words for Crist.

“That’s what you get when the numbers matter and the principles don’t. I’m just happy that Marco Rubio is going to be our nominee; he’s a good candidate. I’m very disappointed that Crist would abandon our party because the numbers didn’t look good for him,” said DeMint, a conservative and an outspoken critic of moderate Republicans, Crist among them.

DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee has raised money for Rubio. The Senator backed him very publicly last year, even as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) were throwing their support to Crist, who entered the race on the heels of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Crist’s pending move to exit the Republican Party sets up a three-way general election contest featuring the governor, Rubio and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.). Public opinion polls tend to show Rubio with a slight edge among the three. But those same polls show that the Republicans would begin the general election in far better position in a traditional two-way race.

DeMint conceded that Rubio’s path to victory on Nov. 2 might be more difficult with two candidates to fend off. But he maintained that the former state Speaker is the most mainstream of the three candidates and would ultimately prevail. DeMint likened Crist’s defection to Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-Pa.) decision, announced one year ago Wednesday, to leave the GOP.

DeMint said the situation in Florida is another reminder to Republicans that the desire to recruit candidates who can win should not trump a commitment to basic philosophical principles.

“I’m convinced Mario will still win. He’s really got the people of Florida behind him. Hopefully it’s a good lesson for the Republican Party,” DeMint said. “It’s the same thing with Arlen Specter. When the numbers didn’t work for him and he left us, when the numbers didn’t work for Crist, he left us. That’s not the kind of people we need to bet on our future.”