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« War Chests Bulging For Vulnerable Southern Dems | Blog Home Page | Dem Support For Giannoulias So Far Unwavering »

Cornyn: NRSC Backing "Not Necessarily Helpful" In Primaries

Hours before one of the National Republican Senatorial Committee's prized recruits is set to announce his decision to bolt from the GOP, Sen. John Cornyn (R) conceded that the national party may have been better off with a hands-off approach to primary battles.

"I think more than any time I've seen in the recent past, instead of a Contract for America, voters want a Contract from America. In other words, they want to be listened to, not lectured to, and not to have their choices made for them," he told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor today. "In this political environment, it's not necessarily helpful for candidates running in the states to have the national party chairman endorse them."

Cornyn was asked repeatedly about Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) looming decision on his Senate candidacy in Florida and the implications of his anticipated independent run. He defended his decision as NRSC chairman to back Crist despite the fact that Marco Rubio was already in the race.

"When Jeb Bush told me he wasn't going to run I looked around to the most popular Republican in the state, and it was pretty clear who that was," he said. "At the time we made the endorsement Governor Crist was one of the most popular governors in America, and I would say it's been a breathtaking change of circumstance to see him now contemplating this course after seeing his numbers plummet so dramatically."

Cornyn said he's attempted multiple times in the past weeks to contact Crist, but that he's since "given up." He planned to encourage him to stay in the GOP primary, or potentially consider running again as a Republican in 2012.

"If he really wanted to talk to me he knows how to get a hold of me," Cornyn said.

When Crist makes his announcement, the committee will immediately throw its support to Rubio, who Cornyn said can win the three-way battle.

"We will unify behind Speaker Rubio," the Texas senator said. "I'm not saying it won't be tough. Florida's a big expensive state to run in. But I'm confident we will hold that seat and Speaker Rubio will be the next senator from Florida, if Governor Crist does as you all have reported he will."

Cornyn also said he would ask for his personal contributions to Crist's campaign to be refunded, as other local and national Republicans are expected to do.

Crist's departure from the GOP would trigger, Cornyn argued, an early start to the general election campaign, something that would turn focus to the likely Democratic nominee.

"People are going to begin focusing on Kendrick Meek, a guy who voted for a half trillion dollar cuts in Medicare which Florida's senior population may take a dim view of -- I expect they will -- and his otherwise very liberal voting record," he said.

Cornyn's acknowledgement that the NRSC's backing or perceived backing of several candidates across the country is notable considering how many face strong challenges. Another example is Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grasyon (R), who is trailing Rand Paul (R) in most polls. Cornyn said the NRSC would enthusiastically support Paul if he wins the primary next month.

"We've got strong candidates running in contested primaries and I think that it would be a mistake at this point for me or anybody that works in Washington, DC, to sort of try to anoint anybody. So I'm gonna leave that where it should be left and that is up to the voters in the state of Kentucky," he said.