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Right-leaning flak alert: RPOF spokesman Brian Hughes back in the private sector

Thursday, April 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Republican Party of Florida spokesman Brian Hughes has left the party and gone back to private practice.

Hughes, a scrappy campaign veteran whose resume includes stints as a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate Majority Office, is back at the helm of his Tallahassee-based Meteoric Media Strategies communications firm as of today.

“Feel free to compare me with Karl Rove,” Hughes joked in a telephone interview today.

As Hughes noted, it’s been one of Tallahassee’s worst-kept secrets that he was planning to leave the state GOP. Leaders there are expected to name his successor soon.

With the 2012 campaigns heating up, Hughes will likely keep busy letting loose in a more unfettered style than at the state party, soon to be co-opted by national staffers.

Here’s the press release on Meteoric Media’s homepage:

Effective Thursday, April 12, Brian Hughes has returned to the helm of his own strategic communications firm, Meteoric Media Strategies. Meteoric Media is located in Tallahassee, FL.

Over the last 15 months, Hughes has worked with Governor Rick Scott and Florida Republicans to advance an agenda for economic growth and to prepare for the upcoming elections. Hughes has served as Deputy Communications Director for the Executive Office of the Governor, Communications Director for the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) and, most recently, was also Deputy Executive Director for RPOF. During the 2010 legislative session Hughes had served as Communications Director for the Florida Senate Majority Office under Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla.

“Working with Governor Scott and RPOF after the 2010 elections has been a tremendous honor,” said Hughes in a statement. “Now it’s time to get back to building my own business while helping Republicans the best way I know how, in the trenches during the hard-fought battles of an election year.”

Hughes started Meteoric Media in 2009 working with candidate campaigns and issue advocacy. He integrates expertise in public relations, online media, and broadcast production to offer a variety of services. His clients include CFO Jeff Atwater, State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education just to name a few. Meteoric will be making many exciting client announcements in the days and weeks ahead.

While the Republican Party of Florida undertakes a thorough search for a new communication and media strategist, Hughes will remain as an advisor to the RPOF and its Chairman, Lenny Curry.

“I congratulate Brian on his decision to continue building his excellent brand,” said RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry. “Brian is a trusted advisor and consummate professional, and we will continue to work together for Republican victories.”

Music aficionado alert! $25K fundraiser – 3 Florida House speakers plus Nola Jazzfest

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

High-rolling music lovers can unfold their wallets and get off the chain in the Big Easy while supporting Florida House races at a Republican Party of Florida fundraiser later this month.

The event? The first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of the country’s most rollicking music jubilees. It’s being hosted by the Republican Party of Florida on behalf of three future House Speakers – Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary; and Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity – to round up cash for Florida GOP House races.

The cost? $25,000.

That might seem like a lot of dough to trudge in the gnat-infested, dusty New Orleans fairgrounds in what can be withering heat – if it’s not raining, in which the multi-stage venue turns into a mudfest. (Note to donors who plan to attend: Wear close-toed shoes.)

But the headliners during the three-day fundraiser on April 27-29 include Bruce Springsteen, Florida homegrown rocker Tom Petty and Al Green (With apologies to the GOP, if you haven’t heard President Obama singing Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” check it out here. Plus there’s dozens of other bands featuring just about every music genre including gospel, zydeco, klezmer, R & B, jazz and Americana. And there’s sure to be a VIP tent with plenty of water and other libations and cooling stations where fans can chill.

Supporters can stay at The Saint, a swank Canal Street hotel in the French Quarter.

The 2012 session’s early finish in March this year due to redistricting is a plus, because the first weekend of Jazzfest usually collides with the last week of the regular legislative session.

Some might view the New Orleans locale as a surprise, however, given lawmakers’ concerns about helping boost the Sunshine State’s economy.

House Dem Leader sneak attack on former RPOF executive director’s job

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders came up with a way to add $105,000 to the Alzheimer’s Mobil Network: Do away with the Department of Elder Affairs deputy secretary/chief of staff position.

Saunders, D-Key West, said “no one can seem to tell me what the position does.” He offered an amendment doing away with the unnamed person’s post and shifting the money during debate on the state budget just before this evening’s floor session ended.

Who holds the job that isn’t listed on the position agency’s “Other Key Department Staff” page?

Ron Whitaker, former Republican Party of Florida executive director.

Saunders brought Whitaker’s resume with him onto the House floor, but said the Alzheimer’s advocacy folks asked him to withdraw the amendment for fear that it would get their funding cut in House-Senate conference.

“I think the point was made,” Saunders said, although he conceded “nobody was paying attention” as the budget debate dragged into the evening.

- The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte contributed to this blog.

Scott gives DOT an attaboy

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott continued his tour of state agencies Monday — stopping at the Florida Department of Transportation and seeming to give a couple hundred tense employees some reason to believe they’ll keep their jobs a while longer.

Scott praised the performance and efficiency of DOT employees. And he said that during his campaign last fall, no voters complained about the agency, unlike — he named names — ridiculing the Department of Community Affairs.

“You’re helping to make sure that this state is going to be the jobs creator over the next 20 to 30 years,” Scott told the crowd gathered inside the agency’s auditorium.

The new boss acknowledged that if anyone was “a high-speed rail enthusiast, I’m not your best friend.” And he gave advocates of Central Florida’s SunRail commuter train little reason to gain confidence.

“That’s one project I’m looking at,” Scott said.

He only had to field two questions from DOT employees. But one came from Florida Democratic Party activist Jon Ausman, also a DOT staffer, who quizzed the Republican governor about how cutting benefits and reducing state agency payrolls helps Florida’s economy.

“We have to make sure we treat taxpayers and government workers fairly. Both,” Scott said.

Worst budget year and ideology drives GOP cuts

Sunday, March 6th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Facing the worst budget year in memory, new Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-packed Florida Legislature begin the 2011 session this week, pledging to slash spending and make good on campaign pledges that powered them last fall.

With the approach of the opening day Tuesday, unions, teachers and scores of groups in the cross hairs of budget cuts have been rallying against Scott and fellow Republican leaders who, in turn, are pulling support from tea party loyalists eager to shrink government.

Though it hasn’t commanded the national attention of Wisconsin and other partisan battlegrounds, purple state Florida is in for a bruising spring, with lawmakers looking to close a $3.6 billion budget hole and revive an economy flat-lined by an almost 12 percent jobless rate.

“Priority number one is the budget,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “Everything else is number two.”

But it’s not a simple numbers game.

Political ideology is shading most of the exchanges between Republicans in power and Democrats pushed to Florida’s fringe by the November elections.

Read full story here:



Scott and GOP’s plans fire Dems for ’12 campaigns

Sunday, February 27th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature’s ruling Republicans have kicked over a political hornet’s nest by promoting budget cuts, pension overhauls and civil justice changes, which are now emerging as targets for statewide rallies by Democratic-allied organizations.

The GOP’s tough medicine for a state pocked by foreclosures and almost 12 percent unemployment may be breathing life into a Florida Democratic Party, virtually left for dead after wholesale election defeats last fall. It also may effectively prove the opening round of the 2012 presidential contest in the nation’s biggest battleground state.

“Democrats last fall were down and outspent,” said Susannah Randolph, campaign manager for defeated Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and now an organizer of the March 8 rallies.

“Now we’re seeing that we have to respond to a threat level like DEFCON 1,” said Randolph, who also is a leader of Florida Watch Action. “And sure, we want to keep this energy going.”

Using a Facebook page, “Awake The State,” organizers are planning events in most major Florida cities on the legislature’s opening day. Although locations are still being determined, teachers and public employees’ unions, including police and firefighters, are forming the core of those protesting expected cuts in education, pensions and government workforces.

Counter-punching, tea party supporters are rallying behind Scott, and looking to converge on the state Capitol for the session’s launch, which coincides with the new governor’s first State of the State address.

Florida’s spring training season goes beyond baseball.  The parties are gearing up for the 2012 campaigns by energizing their political bases around Scott and the Legislature’s plans.

UPDATE: Senate prez says ‘nope’ to moving primaries back

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate prez disagree on whether Florida should move back the presidential primary from January to March.

Here’s what Scott said on the issue today:

“My belief is I don’t want to lose any of the delegates, so I want to have it as early as we can. But I don’t want to lose any of the delegates,” Scott told reporters. That sort of sounds like he doesn’t want to anger national GOP leaders who will punish the state by slashing its number of delegates if the primaries aren’t later.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos says he’s “comfortable with where we’re at right now” regarding Florida’s early primaries that caused partisan turmoil three years ago.

“I didn’t see it as chaos. I thought it was great. I thought that Florida was a player,” said the Merritt Island Republican who’s seeking a spot on the national stage in the U.S. Senate. “Florida influenced in a huge way not just who won the presidency but who the nominee was. I think that was a good thing.”

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat from Tampa, filed a bill this week that would push back Florida’s presidential primary until March after Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith asked his GOP counterpart Dave Bitner to support the move.


Top Scott advisor joins lobbying firm

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Lanny Wiles – Gov. Rick Scott’s right-hand-man on the campaign trail – is joining The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners lobbying firm headed by former Republican Party of Florida chairman Al Cardenas.

Wiles, who is married to Scott’s campaign manager Susie Wiles, will be “senior counsel” at the lobbying firm, which has offices in Tallahassee, Miami and Washington.

Wiles was a constant presence on Scott’s campaign and in the transition, often whispering into an earpiece to coordinate with Scott’s advance team.

Wiles has a long history of working closely with Republican politicians, beginning with President Reagan’s 1976 presidential bid.
a full range of governmental advocacy services and has built a strong foundation of core budgeting and legislative processing skills that allows successful navigation of issues of interest to their clients.

Wiles will join the firm’s other Tallahassee lobbyists, Slater Bayliss and Stephen Shiver. Bayliss, one of Gov. Jeb Bush’s aides, served as a special advisor on Scott’s inaugural committee. Shiver is a long-time GOP operative with close ties to the Florida legislature.

McCollum likely to vote for Scott, still no endorsement

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said he is likely to vote for GOP governor candidate Rick Scott but still won’t endorse him.

Scott, who had never run for office before, defeated McCollum after a brutal primary in which Scott spent $50 million of his own money, much of it on negative campaign ads targeting McCollum, who spent decades in Congress and as a lobbyist, as a career politician.

McCollum said he has “big differences” with Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democrat gubernatorial candidate, primarily about her opposition to his lawsuit against the federal government over health care reforms.

“I cannot vote for her for governor,” McCollum told reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning.

Although McCollum has refused to endorse Scott, McCollum said he will “probably” vote in the governor’s race.

“And if I do I’m leaning towards voting for Scott. But I haven’t made that decision formally yet. Haven’t decided. I’m weighing it right now,” he said.

He said he hasn’t decided either whether he will formally endorse his former opponent but that he’s offered to meet with Scott “more than once and no meetings occurred to this point.”

Guv race ad wars: Dems run two new ads blasting Scott

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Democratic Party released two new TV ads today, one a hard-hitting attack piece bashing GOP gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott and the other a softer piece promoting opponent Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

The first ad, titled “Trust,” features clips from television news reports of Scott evading reporters asking questions about the $1.7 billion in fines Scott’s former company Columbia/HCA was forced to pay the federal government for Medicare fraud.

It ends with a reporter asking Scott “The question is how could you have missed such an abuse by your own company?”

UPDATE: State GOP audit reveals lavish spending by former party chief

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Charlie Crist had this to say about the RPOF audit released today:
“I went to Disney World with my wife and my two stepdaughters and we paid for it ourselves.”

An audit of state GOP spending revealed that former party chief Jim Greer spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish hotel rooms and trips unrelated to official business, including more than $5,000 on costs associated with his son’s baptism.

The audit, released to the public today, also found that the Republican Party of Florida picked up a $13,435.59 tab for a personal trip to Disney World Greer and his family took with Gov. Charlie Crist and his wife Carole and possibly her two daughters in June 2009.

Crist, who left the Republican Party this spring to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race, said earlier this week he had no idea about possible misspending on travel after Thrasher threatened to take Crist to court to recoup the money if Crist didn’t repay it.

But the audit showed that Crist and his wife and the Greers spent more than $13,000 on a personal holiday at the Walt Disney World Contemporary Hotel.

Greer also charged $10,992.17 on his RPOF-issued American Express card for three personal vacations to Fisher Island, including one in which Crist participated, the audit found. Carole Crist owns a home on the exclusive enclave.

Crist’s campaign responded with a statement demanding that his opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, release all of his credit card statements prior to the dates covered in the audit.

“Republican party bosses engaging in smear tactics to cover-up the wrongdoing of their own nominee? Shocking. Now that the bosses have ended their partisan charade, they must immediately release all of Marco Rubio’s credit card records dating back to when he was Speaker-Designate to determine the extent to which he charged the party for personal expenses like family reunions and real estate payments,” Crist campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in an e-mail.

LA guv Jindal joins Scott in FL flyaround

Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a veritable rock star among hard core GOP’ers, will join Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott on three campaign stops tomorrow.

Jindal earned praise for his harsh criticism of BP’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that smothered Louisiana marshes in goo and left indelible images of oil-coated pelicans gasping for breath.

The pair will greet the public at private airports in Pensacola, Orlando and Jacksonville.

Crist on travel charges: ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about’

Monday, September 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist says he’s in the dark about state GOP leaders’ demands that he pay them back for travel expenses unassociated with party business.

“It’s the typical political season stuff that we’re going to see. I think it’s sad and just indicates how partisanship gets in the way,” Crist told reporters this morning after a memorial service for missing children at the Capitol.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman John Thrasher threatened Friday to sue Crist and Jim Greer, Crist’s hand-picked party chairman, to get reimbursed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs. The expenses in question were charged to Greer and former party executive director Delmar Johnson. Crist did not have one of the party American Express cards in question.

Greer resigned in January and was charged in June with fraud, theft and money laundering for his alleged misuse of party money. Greer has pleaded not guilty. Greer maintains he is innocent.

Thrasher and other GOP leaders huddled for hours over an internal audit Friday at their annual meeting in Orlando but refused to release the audit to the public. Thrasher, a former House Speaker who is also a state
senator from St. Augustine, said he may take Crist, Greer and Johnson to court to get the money back.

“I don’t even know what they’re talking about. As you know, they haven’t been transparent. They haven’t
released any of the report. So it’s hard to even know what they’re talking about,” Crist said.

Crist, who abandoned the GOP this spring to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race against Republican Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat, said Thrasher has not asked him for reimbursement of the alleged charges.

“We don’t even know what they are. Neither do you. They won’t show us the report,” Crist said.

Sink calls Scott while McCollum withholds endorsement

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The gubernatorial nominees from the two main parties chatted last night after Democrat Alex Sink phoned Republican Rick Scott to offer her congratulations. Sink’s campaign described it as a “short conversation” in which she expressed hope they could focus on the issues.

Meanwhile, Scott still hasn’t heard from Bill McCollum, his primary rival who refused to say whether he would endorse Scott during their bruising campaign.

McCollum conceded the primary to Scott but has not endorsed the multi-millionaire who spent more than $50 million of his own money to defeat party establishment favorite McCollum.

McCollum’s campaign spokesman said he would endorse every other GOP candidate but failed to include Scott’s name in the list when asked.

“The attorney general is looking forward to being on the campaign trail for campaigns for our Republican slate, including Marco Rubio, Jeff Atwater, Adam Putnam and our new attorney general nominee and Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos and our entire legislative slate,” McCollum campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said today.

When asked if McCollum would endorse Scott, Campbell said: “They have not yet spoken.”

When asked again, Campbell repeated her earlier remarks: “I think (Attorney) General McCollum will make comments this week, where he believes the Republican Party needs to focus on in November. I think you could take from that that he’ll make comments today or Thursday he will focus on electing Republican candidates including Marco Rubio and Mike Haridopolos and Jeff Atwater and the entire Republican legislative slate.”

McCollum became the state’s top GOP elected official when Gov. Charlie Crist abandoned the Republican Party to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Republican Party of Florida officials scrapped a unity party planned in Tampa today after the brutal primary season between Scott and McCollum.

Wanna buy Crist’s portrait? Thrasher to sell it on E-bay

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Republican Party Chairman John Thrasher didn’t mince words about Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to run with no party affiliation to avoid a GOP primary in the U.S. Senate race against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

“He’s been gone a long time, in my opinion, and this just kind of makes it official,” Thrasher, a state senator from St. Augustine told reporters shortly after Crist’s announcement.

Thrasher won’t ask for his GOP registration card back, though.

“All I’m going to do is take his picture down at Republican Party headquarters. And probably put it on E-bay and see what we do,” Thrasher said.

When asked how much he thought it would bring, Thrasher said: “Questionable.”

Crist wouldn’t be where he is today without RPOF, former chairman says

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist wouldn’t be the political superstar he is today without the state GOP’s support, former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas said.

Cardenas took over as the head of the RPOF shortly after Crist made his first U.S. Senate bid in 1998. Incumbent U.S. Bob Graham trounced Crist in that race. Two years later, Crist ran for education commissioner and won with 54 percent of the vote.

“When he was given an opportunity to rebuild his political career, the party almost single-handedly funded his campaign for commissioner of education and revived his career,” Cardenas said. “He’s done very well on his own efforts but never independent of what the party’s been able to do for him.”

Based on the RPOF’s assistance to Crist in each of his campaigns, Cardenas said, Crist ought to “either stay in the process and try to win the primary or do what Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan and George Bush and everybody else has done who didn’t win the nomination and support the ticket.”

Florida candidates owe fealty to their parties, Cardenas said.

“There are some states where elected officials do their own thing and the party is not very active and there are others where a majority status has been built on the shoulders of thousands of donors and contributors,” he explained. “We happen to be the type of state where the party literally jump-starts people’s careers. When you live in that environment, you have to have a different loyalty approach to the party.”

GOP leaders oust former chairman Greer from leadership roles

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Greer: fears socialist indoctrination in Obama speech

Greer: fears socialist indoctrination in Obama speech

The Republican Party of Florida essentially kicked former Chairman Jim Greer out of the party today, stripping him of everything but his voter registration card.

Greer’s successor, Sen. John Thrasher, removed Greer from all offices Greer held at a secret meeting in Tallahassee today.

The RPOF executive board unanimously supported Thrasher’s decision, Thrasher said in a statement.

Greer’s ouster from the party comes amid a federal investigation into the past chairman and other former high-ranking GOP officials and their credit card spending.
Greer filed suit today against the party last week, accusing the GOP of reneging on almost $124,000 he says the party owes him in severance pay.

“Based on the information that has come to light during the recent Party audit, I have determined that Mr. Greer has engaged in activities that have injured the name and status of the Republican Party of Florida, and has grossly interfered with the activities of the Republican Party,” Thrasher said in the statement.

Greer sued the GOP for allegedly reneging on almost $124,000 he says the party owes him in severance pay. He also accused the party in the lawsuit of offering him $200,000 in hush money, which RPOF officials deny.

Thrasher ordered an audit of the spending under Greer, and Gov. Charlie Crist, who hand-picked Greer to head the party after his 2006 election, asked federal investigators to launch an inquiry into possible misspending.

RPOF Chairman Thrasher on Crist, credit cards and condemnation

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. John Thrasher, chairman of the maligned Republican Party of Florida, has a lot to contend with.

Things are heating up in the legislature with less than 10 days to go before the session’s end.

Federal investigators are snooping around former high-ranking GOP officials, including his predecessor at the Party Jim Greer, and their credit card spending.

And Gov. Charlie Crist is considering abandoning the party that helped him to victory in the state Senate, two Cabinet seats and the governor’s mansion.

Crist’s consideration of dropping out of the GOP primary against former House Speaker Marco Rubio and running as an independent in the fall has Crist’s former allies (and those who weren’t big fans of the governor to begin with) coming out in droves to distance themselves from the former sure-bet for U.S. Senate.

Thrasher offered some advice to Crist’s critics, including House Speaker Larry Cretul: Chill.

UPDATE: Another Crist pal jumps campaign ship

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist‘s campaign says his website hasn’t changed at all now that the U.S. Senate candidate is openly considering dropping out of the GOP primary and running as an independent.

“No Republican references have been scrubbed from our website, period,” Crist’s campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an e-mail.

Rep. Tom Grady resigned as Crist’s regional campaign chairman today and quit his finance team, citing the website that makes no reference to the governor’s GOP affiliation.

Grady, a Naples Republican who was elected to the House in 2008 at Crist’s urging, is the latest GOP ally to distance himself from Crist and his U.S. Senate campaign after Crist admitted he is considering abandoning the Republican primary race against former House Speaker Marco Rubio and running instead in the general election in November with no party affiliation.

“This evening, as I reviewed your updated campaign website, I noticed a disheartening fact. Your website has eliminated all references to our Republican Party, or as you frequently refer to it, the party of Lincoln,” Grady wrote in a letter to Crist today distributed to the media by Trey Communications.

Once a sure shot to win in the primary against Rubio, recent polls show Crist trailing the Miami Cuban-American by about 20 percentage points.

Yesterday, National Republican Senate Committee Executive Director fueled speculation that Crist would abandon the GOP race saying there was “zero chance” Crist would run against Rubio.

Things change,” Crist told reporters today when asked how he would explain to voters leaving the GOP primary after repeatedly saying he would not do so.

Grady was one of the few Republicans who attended the governor’s press conference at which Crist announced he would veto SB 6, the contentious teacher merit pay measure pushed by GOP leaders in the legislature.

Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III, Crist’s mentor whose name the governor frequently invokes, withdrew as Crist’s campaign chairman after the veto Thursday.

Read Grady’s letter after the jump.

Crist on running as an independent: ‘Things change.’

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

After repeatedly insisting that he’s not going to jump the Republican Party ship, Gov. Charlie Crist had a simple response to what he would say to Floridians if he does now that he’s considering running for U.S. Senate as an independent.

“Things change,” Crist said.

Those things might include GOP leaders demanding that Crist drop out of the race altogether if he decides to run as a no-party candidate.

Yesterday, the executive director of the National Republican Senate Committee said he believes there’s “zero chance” Crist will remain in the GOP primary against former House Speaker Marco Rubio, once an underdog in the race but who now holds a double-digit lead over Crist in the polls.

“It is our view that if Gov. Crist believes he cannot win a primary then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day,” NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer wrote in a memo.

Crist dismissed the suggestion in his typical populist style.

“I think I’ll take the advice of people in Florida instead of the advice of people in Washington. They’re telling us a lot,” he said.

Numerous GOP leaders in and outside of Florida are distancing themselves from Crist since he vetoed two bills important to Republicans in the legislature: a bill measure that would have allowed “leadership funds” and a teacher merit-pay bill pushed by Sen. John Thrasher, who is also the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

He said he’s “getting a lot of calls and a lot of text messages” offering him advice on what to do.

Crist acknowledged the almost surreal shift in the race in which he was once the hands-down leader and GOP officials virtually pretended that Rubio was not even in the race.

“These are unusual times. Arent’ they?” he said.

Thrasher, who said Crist reneged after telling him he would sign the controversial teacher bill into law, offered some lukewarm encouragement to Crist.

“In spite of policy differences that we’ve had, we have a big tent and I just hope he stays Republican,” the chairman said.

Republicans who once backed Crist may abandon him if he runs as an independent, which could hurt the Republican nominee. Or, he could take their support with him, something Republicans fear.

“I don’t know that they do. That’s the dilemma he probably has now. Again, you’d have to go follower-by-follower to find that out,” said Thrasher, R-Jacksonville.

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