Opinion: GOP donors ready to desert Florida Gov. Crist as Arizona’s McCain ponders fallout from tea party anger


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At the moment, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist holds a distinct fundraising advantage over either of his two main Senate campaign opponents -- Marco Rubio (R) and Kendrick Meek (D). Crist’s number: $10.2 million, including $7.5 million in cash on hand.

But if, as widely expected, Crist announces Thursday afternoon that he’s leaving the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent, a lot of donors are planning to ask for their money back.


(UPDATE: 2:32 p.m. Thursday: He did. And they are.)

Already, Republican senators have signaled their commitment to winning the Florida Senate seat for a fellow Republican, not for an independent -- especially one as truly unreliable as Crist, who infuriated conservatives recently by refusing to sign a bill that tied teacher salaries to student grades.

Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson. whose political action committee contributed $1,000 to Crist’s campaign in June, has already written to the governor’s campaign asking for a refund if Crist leaves the party. ‘I do my PAC to help support Republicans.’ And Texas Republican John Cornyn, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is charged with boosting GOP numbers in the Senate, plans to ask ask for a refund of the $10,000 from the committee’s PAC. ‘I suspect you’ll see a number of Republican senators ask for their money back,’ he said.

Even more damning, the conservative Club for Growth said it planned a campaign to get all kinds of donors -- not just the big guys -- to ask for a refund. The group spearheaded a similar effort last year after Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter switched from Republican to Democrat. Spokesman Michael Connolly told the Washington Times that that effort accounted for from $800,000 to $1.1 million in exiting funds from Specter’s war chest.

Some senators who have personal ties to Crist will have a harder time than others in the money game. Arizona’s John McCain, in one of the toughest races of his political life, against tea-party favorite J.D. Hayworth, owes Crist big. As Ticket reported Wednesday, Crist was courted heavily by Rudy Giuliani and made all the right noises about supporting him before endorsing McCain.

Asked Wednesday about whether he will seek a refund, McCain said he ‘hasn’t switched.’

-- Johanna Neuman

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