Who leads Florida Republicans now? Jeff Kottkamp?

TALLAHASSEE

Imagine you're a lifelong Republican, and you've just returned to your Florida condo after a few months' absence.

To catch up on political news, you log on to the Republican Party of Florida's website, rpof.org.

There he is, big as life, the titular head of the Florida GOP.

Jeff Kottkamp.

Who?

The lieutenant governor is smiling. Why wouldn't he be? His political career was over when Charlie Crist rescued him from obscurity four years ago and asked him to join a Republican ticket that racked up 2.5 million votes.

The two men have been estranged for the past two years, since stories broke of Kottkamp's frequent use of state aircraft. Kottkamp is now trying to use his low-profile post as a springboard to win Crist's old job of attorney general, and lo and behold, he's front and center on the party's website.

Don't bother looking for the familiar face of Crist, now that he has renounced the party that helped elect him to three statewide offices.

Crist has been electronically eviscerated, scrubbed out of existence, a nonentity as he continues to govern the nation's fourth-largest state. (The images of party leaders rotating on the GOP site are those of Kottkamp, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson).

Scroll down and you can read a statement by party chairman John Thrasher, trashing Crist for "deserting his post" and "taking the easy way out."

Close by is a statement from U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, also publicly breaking ranks with the man who made him a senator for life: "Our friendship runs deep, but my commitment to the principles of the Republican Party runs deeper. I cannot walk down the path he has chosen," LeMieux said.

The fact is, the Republican Party website has never been as exciting as it is now. If you want to read stuff trashing Crist, don't bother going to the Democrats' website. The Republicans' site is a lot more interesting, and the partisan destruction of "the people's governor" is just beginning.

That raises a question: Is it possible that the party is playing into Crist's hands?

A cornerstone of Crist's re-packaged candidacy-of-desperation is that political parties would rather score points than find solutions.

In his speech in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Crist said voters are fed up with "games, name-calling and the politics of destruction." By all appearances, he still believes in things Republicans care about — low taxes, limited government, safe streets, gun rights — he's just not toting the Republican banner any more.

To many Republicans, that makes him a traitor. Rep. David Rivera likened Crist to Benedict Arnold.

Crist shouldn't take such comments as insults, but rather as personal challenges. Still, he has a lot to answer for: his loyalty to Jim Greer, the perceived selfishness of putting his hide first, what he did to stem the loss of jobs in Florida's economy.

Much of the Republican establishment thinks he's going to fall flat on his face. He might. But he also might win. Either way, this is going to be a political year like no other in Florida's history.

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

Who leads Florida Republicans now? Jeff Kottkamp? 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 9:34pm]

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