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GOP chief rips holes in state's big tent

Jim Greer came out of nowhere to become a powerful force as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

But even with help from Gov. Charlie Crist, he won by only 13 votes and faces a re-election vote in January.

The question now is whether he helped or hurt his cause in Tuesday's election.

Casting aside the tradition of neutrality, Greer took sides in several races between Republicans for the Legislature or party posts, taping "Hi, this is Jim Greer. Vote for …" robo-calls in some cases.

The problem: Not all Greer's people won, so he may have gained new enemies.

"I agree as a general rule that the state chair should not get involved in primaries except in the rarest of circumstances," Greer said. He added he did so in some cases because people asked for his support or others ran as Republicans but had personal agendas he said are "destructive and disruptive to the party structure." He didn't say who, but Libertarians have been trying to make inroads in Northeast Florida.

Greer-backed state committeewoman Becky Reichenberg of St. Johns County said Greer was right to oppose her opponent, a Libertarian with goals at odds with the party's. (These state party officials elect the party chairman).

Elsewhere, things didn't go so well for Greer. In Tallahassee's Leon County, Greer backed Terry Kester, who finished second in a three-way race for committeeman.

Before the votes were in, county GOP chairman Dan Abel faulted Greer, calling it highly inappropriate and a breach of a rule prohibiting the state party from favoring one Republican over another except by a 60 percent vote of the state executive committee.

In a three-way primary for a North Florida House seat, Greer backed Chris France, who lost to Charles Van Zant. Greer said France would have been the best general-election candidate. Now he has a nominee he didn't support.

The third candidate in the race, Patricia Freeman, called Greer a "good 'ol boy from Tallahassee" and said voters in Palatka don't like "someone from the outside" telling them how to vote.

In Jacksonville's 13-person race for Duval Republican state committeeman, Greer backed a friend, Deno Hicks. Businessman Rick Hartley, who won, says of Greer: "He has not proven to be the uniter that he ran as."

To say more, Hartley said, would "add fuel to the fire."

What fire? The state GOP is supposed to be one big happy family, content inside Greer's big tent.

"I think I did very well," Greer said. "There were a couple of races where I wished I'd put in a little more resources, but at the end of the day I was really pleased."

Will most in the state party hierarchy agree? Mark Cross, elected state committeeman in Osceola County without Greer's help, said: "We'll know what kind of job he did come Election Day."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

GOP chief rips holes in state's big tent 08/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 5:19pm]

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