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Diaz-Balart brothers rescind endorsement of Crist in Senate race

WASHINGTON — Miami Republican U.S. Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart have pulled their endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist for the Senate, dealing his campaign a significant blow in South Florida's Hispanic community.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Lincoln Diaz-Balart offered few details, saying only that Crist had "left us no alternative and he knows why."

The Diaz-Balarts' withdrawal of support — a rarity in politics — comes when Crist is steadily losing ground in the polls to former state House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami. Without the well-known Diaz-Balarts to campaign with him in their heavily Hispanic districts, Crist has lost key allies on his Senate rival's home turf.

Crist called their decision disappointing.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart said the pulled endorsement has nothing to do with Crist's recent political performance. He added he and his brother are unlikely to endorse any other candidate, including Rubio. The decision to take away their support from Crist, he said, was made weeks ago.

On. Oct. 29, the governor passed over a prosecutor recommended by Lincoln Diaz-Balart for a county judgeship in North Florida. Diaz-Balart had written a letter in September expressing his "enthusiastic support'' for Frank Allman. Diaz-Balart's son, Daniel, is a Florida State University law student who interned at the Gadsden County State Attorney's Office where Allman works.

Asked Tuesday whether his support for Allman was related to the decision to drop Crist, Lincoln Diaz-Balart said in an e-mail: "I stand by my statement to you of today and by my letter to the governor regarding Frank Allman — a public servant who I admire."

A spokesman for the governor, Sterling Ivey, said Crist was not aware of the letter from Diaz-Balart.

Allman was among six finalists for the job. Crist made history by appointing Kathy Garner, who is the first woman and first African-American to serve on the bench in the predominantly black county.

He put her appointment on hold after learning Garner had paid her property taxes late on several properties. Crist lifted the hold on Nov. 9.

Allman called Diaz-Balart's son a friend but referred questions about their relationship to the congressman. "At the end of the day, the governor chose another qualified candidate. I had a real strong showing of support, and I'm really happy about that, but that did not carry the day with the Governor's Office."

The Diaz-Balarts are known for sticking by their endorsements. They backed Bill McCollum in the Senate Republican primary in 2004 despite pressure from the Hispanic community to support the Cuban-born Mel Martinez. Martinez won the election.

"We take our endorsements seriously, but the governor knows why we withdrew, and he left us with no alternative," Lincoln Diaz-Balart said.

The names of the Diaz-Balarts were recently removed from Crist's campaign Web page.

"I look forward to working with them, as I do with the rest of our congressional delegation," the governor said Tuesday, adding that their decision to pull their endorsement "saddens me."

In July, the brothers threw their support behind Crist, with Mario Diaz-Balart saying Crist "is exactly the leader that we need and I look forward to supporting and campaigning with him." The Diaz-Balarts co-hosted a fundraiser for Crist in Washington.

Crist considered Lincoln Diaz-Balart to replace Martinez when the senator gave up his Senate seat, but the governor eventually appointed his own former top aide, George LeMieux. Diaz-Balart said Crist's appointment did not have anything to do with the decision to pull his support.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Embattled state GOP chief agrees to meeting

Setting the stage for a potential legal fight or at the very least a vote of confidence, Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer has agreed to hold a special meeting next month — but says critics are barred from holding any vote on rescinding his chairmanship as they had planned. In a letter, Greer calls a special meeting of the Republican state executive committee for 9 a.m. Jan. 9 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando "at the written request of a sufficient number of State Committee members." But then he denies a request for a vote by secret ballot saying, "The RPOF Constitution and Rules do not permit consideration of a motion to rescind the election of an officer."

Adam C. Smith, Times political editor

Diaz-Balart brothers rescind endorsement of Crist in Senate race 12/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 10:41pm]
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