Bolt with Crist and pay the price, memo warns GOP faithful

— Anticipating a possible bolt of Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican Party of Florida on Thursday told members in no uncertain terms that there would be a price to pay for bolting with him.

In a memo to the party’s executive director, Republican Party of Florida General Counsel Jason Gonzalez reminded local party leaders that party bylaws include a loyalty oath that prevents them from endorsing non-GOP candidates in any upcoming race.

“At the heart of the Party Loyalty Oath is the requirement that members of the Republican Party of Florida’s Executive Committees …. Cannot provide their active, public, or financial support to any candidate other than ‘the Republican candidate’ in a general election,” Gonzalez wrote.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, and Republican Party of Florida chairman, said late Thursday afternoon that he is simply taking precautions in case Crist decides to leave the party and make an independent run for the U.S. Senate. Speculation of just such a move have been mounting in recently weeks as Crist continues to trail in the polls against his Republican rival, former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

“We ought to be prepared,” Thrasher said. “It’s part of due diligence and trying to let our members know what the consequences are if, in fact, that happens. Nothing more than that.”

Crist has until April 30 to declare if he wishes to run as an unaffiliated candidate. In recent days, his political future has been the hot topic of conversation in Tallahassee and across the nation. His recent vetoes of Republican backed efforts on leadership funds and teacher tenure have prompted many politicos to opine that the governor will leave the party.

Such decisions have already prompted prominent state and national candidates to either withdraw their support for Crist or endorse his Republican opponent. Former vice president Dick Cheney, for example, became the latest Republican to endorse Rubio. In a statement Thursday, Cheney said: “Charlie Crist has shown time and again that he cannot be trusted in Washington to take on the Obama agenda because on issue after issue he actually supports that agenda,” Cheney said. “Lately it seems Charlie Crist cannot be trusted even to remain a Republican. I strongly urge him to either stay in the Republican primary or drop out of the race.”

The party, too, is circling the wagons in anticipation of a three-candidate race. Along with withholding their support, the memo tells party officials that they must actively work to return contributions of candidates who defect.

“Any member who fails to formally revoke his or her public support and request the return of any contributions made to a candidate running against the candidate of the Republican Party would be in violation of the RPOF Rules and would be subject to removal from party office and membership on Republican executive committees.” Gonzalez concluded.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said he had not seen the memo, but didn’t have to read it to make up his mind.

“I haven’t endorse either of the candidates,” Richter said. “But I would not be endorsing Gov. Crist if he ran as an independent, with or without a memo.”

Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, has already withdrawn his support of the governor. In an e-mail letter to Crist, Grady said he was relinquishing his involvement in the campaign as a result of an ideological parting of the ways from Crist, who encouraged Grady to run for the state House in 2007.

“This comes at a time when we clearly differ on what it means to be a conservative with a firm belief in less government, less taxing, less spending and more freedom,” Grady wrote.

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