Saturday, October 18, 2008

Florida GOP: Red With Dismay


Tom Slade, a former Florida GOP chair, was getting about five calls a day last week from fellow Republicans saying the same thing: "Do something." The source of their alarm was the seemingly perilous condition of Sen. John McCain's campaign in the state. After leading for months in Florida, recent polls show him trailing Sen. Barack Obama by about five points. Much of the reversal, no doubt, stems from the economic crisis.

But part of the blame lies with the McCain team itself, according to numerous Florida Republicans. Slade says he's hearing complaints that the campaign isn't coordinating volunteers well and its state director, Arlene DiBenigno, is ineffective. Others say its voter-turnout operation is lagging. (A Florida spokesman for McCain declined to respond to these assertions.) "The campaign is kind of on the ropes," says one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to give a candid assessment. McCain "could lose Florida now, and if he does, it's game over."

Tension has reportedly been mounting between the campaign and state Republicans. Several weeks ago, Florida GOP chair Jim Greer convened a private meeting with both camps to discuss the darkening outlook. News of the gathering, which apparently grew tense, leaked to media. Greer denies any discord, telling NEWSWEEK the point was to "make sure that the ship was on its right course." But a McCain loyalist who was present and also requested anonymity says Greer was just looking out for himself— either by appearing to save the day or "forewarning of a crisis so he couldn't be blamed."

Then there's Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, whose enthusiasm for McCain, some say, has waned since he was passed over as a veep pick. He recently told reporters that "his foremost responsibility" is governing his state and that he was eager to help the Arizona senator "when I have time." Then about a week ago, he went to Disney World instead of a McCain rally.........

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