Good news for Charlie Crist, bumbling GOP chairman Michael Steele isn't lining up behind his bid for U.S. Senate just yet. Despite the rare early pre-primary endorsement Crist picked up from the NRSC, while on Meet the Press yesterday with Democrat chairman Tim Kaine he stated that the full force of the Republican Party isn't behind Crist just yet.
"The senatorial committee is in a different business. They're looking to build the Senate, the Senate numbers and the membership," said Steele, "They don't have to deal with the state party chairmen and the party leadership and the grassroots the same way the national party chairmanship does."
Though, Republican Party of Florida Chair Jim Greer, widely thought of as a Crist lapdog, is pretty much in the pro-Crist camp.
Host David Gregory tried to pin Steele on his earlier comments that some had interpreted that he'd be open to withholding support from candidates that supported President Obama's stimulus package, as Crist did quite publicly.
Seems Steele is walking a tight line here: not wanting to upset the hard-right Republicans who may prefer Marco Rubio, but at the same time not doing anything to damage Crist who is far and away the likely nominee.
Full transcript after the cut.
MR. GREGORY: Look, I want, I want to bring up Charlie Crist, because this is an interesting point.
MR. STEELE: Mm-hmm.
GOV. KAINE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Here he was earlier this year effectively campaigning with President Obama on the stimulus plan, Charlie Crist supporting it. He's now denying funds to anybody who supported the stimulus plan. running for the Senate. You have said, Chairman Steele, that you are open to
MR. STEELE: As--that is not...
MR. GREGORY: Will you do in the case of Charlie Crist?
MR. STEELE: Let's, let's set the record straight here. That is not what I said. What I said was that I would follow the lead of the state party leadership and, and, and making their determinations with respect to primaries and, and the outcomes thereof. Charlie Crist is going to be in a primary for this office. If he wins the primary, I look forward to supporting him if the, if the party's behind him. And that's all I said.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. STEELE: And I think, I think that...
MR. GREGORY: Why would the senatorial committee already announce support for him?
MR. STEELE: Because the senatorial committee is, is in a different business. They're looking to build the Senate, the Senate numbers...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. STEELE: ...and the membership. They don't have, they don't have to deal with the state party chairmen and the party leadership and the grassroots the same way the national party chairmanship does.
MR. GREGORY: But...
MR. STEELE: And our general rule is we don't get into primaries. We, we, we trust the judgment of primary voters and we trust the leadership to make those political decisions that they need to make with respect to the candidates who'll be running.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think, as head is--head of the Republican Party, that you need more voices like Governor Crist?
MR. STEELE: I need voices period. I need, I need the Republican base, I need Republican activists to stand up and talk about what this administration is doing on the economy, what it's going to do to us on health care and the actions it's taken thus far in the Middle East and around the world. So, you know, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not...
MR. GREGORY: But why make support for the stimulus a litmus test then?
MR. STEELE: The support for the stimulus was not a litmus test in, in the, in the way that you're meaning it. The, the key thing here to keep in mind is that was a core principle for Republicans across this country with respect to our views on spending and, and government interference in, in the market. And so that was, that was a line, it was a clear line that the House Republicans did not cross. Three members of the Senate did. That was a choice that they made. And as I said at the time, they will account to their voters in their respective primaries when that, when that comes.