From NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
National Republicans are throwing their weight behind Charlie Crist.
"I am pleased today to endorse Governor Charlie Crist for the United States Senate," said John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. "With his record of reform in Florida, I know that Governor Crist will bring a fresh perspective to Washington in our efforts to fight for lower taxes, less government, and new job creation for all Americans. Charlie Crist is a tireless advocate on behalf of all Floridians and one of only three Governors who earned an 'A' from the CATO Institute for his efforts to restrain spending and cut taxes last year.
"While I believe Marco Rubio has a very bright future within the Republican Party, Charlie Crist is the best candidate in 2010 to ensure that we maintain the checks and balances that Floridians deserve in the United States Senate. Governor Crist is a dedicated public servant and a dynamic leader, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will provide our full support to ensure that he is elected the next United States Senator from Florida."
Crist, by the way, who announced on Twitter, also Tweeted his gratitude to Cornyn for backing him at 9:50 am ET: "I am grateful to NRSC Chairman Cornyn for endorsing my campaign for the US Senate."
According to an April 15 Quinnipiac poll, among registered Republicans, Crist was the most recognizable figure by far. He led Rubio in the poll by a whopping 54%-8%. Crist also had the highest favorability in the poll -- 64%.
By the way, Democrats are already stoking the flames and putting the spotlight on Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. They point out that Steele twice said that he'd be open to withholding RNC cash from those who supported the stimulus.
Crist gave the administration cover on the stimulus debate, and the subject is sure to be a prime issue in the GOP primary.
"Michael Steele drew an ideological line in the sand and vowed to cut off funds from any Republican that was at all cooperative with the President on the stimulus," a senior Democratic source told First Read. "But, he's been weakened with some procedural moves from within his own ranks. So, it'll be an interesting test of who controls the purse strings at the RNC."
*** UPDATE *** The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee weighs in: "Charlie Crist's record in Florida is not one to be proud of," spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. "His administration has created an economic mess with record deficits, staggering unemployment, and a mortgage crisis that has hit nearly every Florida community. Too many in Florida are hurting because Governor Crist has failed to provide leadership and a way out of this mess. He's jumping ship when he's needed the most. That isn't leadership -- it is an abdication of responsibility."