Cornyn says Republicans will back Rubio if Crist runs as independent

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will bolt from the Republican party and seek election to the U.S. Senate as an independent, two close confidantes said Wednesday. (April 28)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 9:48 AM

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters Thursday morning that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist "will end our support" if he announces later in the day, as expected, that he will leave the Republican Party and run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

Cornyn held out hope that Crist would either stay in the race as a Republican or drop out, endorse fellow Republican Marco Rubio and prepare for a Senate bid in 2012 against Sen. Bill Nelson.

"Both of those options ... are much more preferable than running as an independent," Cornyn said. "His future electoral prospects are irreparably damaged by his deciding now to run as an independent."

"I've communicated in the strongest terms I know that I think it's a mistake for Governor Crist to switch party affiliation from Republican to independent," Cornyn said. "If he does that ... we will put our support enthusiastically behind Marco Rubio, who I am convinced will win that race."

Cornyn expressed personal frustration regarding his dealings with Crist, saying that that governor has not taken his phone calls and that they've engaged in a prolonged game of phone tag.

"I've sort of given up out of frustration," he said.

Cornyn added that the "drama of today" represents a "breathtaking change of circumstances" for Crist, whom he described as one of the most popular governors in America when he entered the Senate race. He said he would ask Crist to return donations from his own leadership committee, and with other GOP donors already undertaking to do the same, he predicted that Crist would have difficulty raising money as an independent.

Cornyn spoke on a range of topics in a breakfast gathering of reporters in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. He stated that critics of Arizona's new immigration law have overstated its potential to encourage racial profiling or discriminatory enforcement practices against Latinos.

He said Sen. John McCain "will win handily" in Arizona in his primary bid against former representative J.D. Hayworth. He acknowledged the vulnerability of Sen. Robert F. Bennett in Utah, who is on the verge of a convention upset next weekend, but he noted that "the good news, from my perspective, is that a Republican wins the seat regardless of the outcome."

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