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Don't let Republican Party bosses crown Gov. Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio for GOP's U.S. Senate nomination

Back when more people smoked, you heard the term "smoke-filled room" used a lot in politics as a complaint. It meant that decisions were being made by insiders cutting deals in private.

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The "smoke-filled room" became such an unpopular symbol that it helped lead to a change in American politics — the use of "primary" elections to choose party nominees.

What could be more democratic, with a small "d," than voting? Every Republican, every Democrat, every member of any party big enough to hold a primary, would have a say.

This is the system we have today.

Still, the old itch lingers — the itch of a party to choose its "best" candidate on the front end, before the pesky voters get their say.

We have an example in front of us. Two attractive Republicans, Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, the former speaker of our state House, each want to be our state's next U.S. senator.

This could be a great matchup, the popular, centrist Crist against the charismatic, conservative Rubio, who has star potential.

It could even become that "battle for the soul of the Republican Party" that some folks talk about. To some conservatives, Crist is a sellout, buddying around with President Barack Obama, eagerly taking the stimulus money, relying on gambling for revenue, lying low in the culture wars.

On the other hand, Crist is an established star who would probably crush any Democrat in November. Rubio would be a legitimate nominee, too, but without Crist's head start on name recognition and popularity.

The safest choice is what matters most to the national Republicans. When you are out of power, winning elections becomes a little more important, and ideological purity a little less.

So as soon as Crist announced, he was endorsed by the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party outfit in charge of helping candidates win against the Democrats.

Crist also was immediately endorsed by Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, who pledged "full support for his candidacy."

On the state level, party chairman Jim Greer makes no secrecy of his loyalty to Crist. There was even kooky talk of invoking something called "Rule 11," automatically putting the party officially on Crist's side.

When you add all this up, it's too much. It's not democratic, small "d."

In the first place, Crist is the heavy favorite anyway. Why such heavy-handed tactics to get the result you're probably going to get regardless? All you do is create resentment among the folks being bullied.

In the second place, if Rubio somehow knocked off Crist, he would be a strong nominee. We're not talking about some fringe long-shot, but a legitimate spokesman for an important point of view inside the Republican Party.

And in the third place, this is 2009, not 1909. We made the decision to put rank-and-file party members in charge of candidates a long time ago, and it's a little late to be regretting the choice.

Fortunately, enough state and local Republican leaders have objected to slow down the Crist-by-fiat stampede. There will be no modern version of the smoke-filled room. (The BlackBerry-filled room?) Let the party's nominee be decided in the modern, democratic-small-d fashion — with the most votes.

Don't let Republican Party bosses crown Gov. Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio for GOP's U.S. Senate nomination 05/18/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 18, 2009 7:22pm]

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