WASHINGTON — National Republican leaders and Charlie Crist's would-be colleagues at the Capitol were beaming over the governor's announcement that he'll run for the Senate.
But many conservative leaders weren't feeling so sunny.
As Republicans in the Senate lined up to endorse Crist, who they see as a good chance to keep an open seat red, many conservative activists questioned Crist's commitment to the party's core values of fiscal and social conservatism.
They also said Crist faces a tougher-than-expected race against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP primary, as disaffected conservatives turn out to express their disapproval for Crist.
"This really does make the primary a real battle for where the soul of the party is," said Dennis Baxley, a former state legislator and executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.
Many conservatives cheered moderate Sen. Arlen Specter's recent switch from R-Pa., to D-Pa., and say that Crist, also a moderate, would only hamper their party's rebirth.
"At best he would help the Republicans maintain the status quo, which is not good," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Activists point to several of Crist's decisions to make their point: his strong support for President Barack Obama's nearly $800-billion stimulus package; his appointment in March of Judge James E.C. Perry to the state Supreme Court, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association and antiabortion groups; and his lack of support for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Wes Allison can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 463-0577.