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Steele Not Ready to Endorse Crist in Florida

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Sunday that despite the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s early endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s GOP Senate primary, neither he nor the RNC will take sides in the contest until after the primary.

Crist is competing with former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio in the fight for the GOP nomination. Although Crist is popular in the state and most polls have shown him winning the open seat general election easily, some conservative groups have been critical of his record as governor — particularly his decision to support President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package — and have cast their lot with Rubio.

But NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) endorsed Crist on the day the governor announced his Senate bid, citing his electability as one of the reasons.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Steele said he and Cornyn have slightly different missions and said the RNC would not take sides in the Florida race until the GOP primary voters had spoken.

“The Senate committee is in a different business — they’re looking to add numbers to the Senate,” Steele said. “Our business is staying in touch with state party leaders and following the lead of state party leaders.”

Steele, who has been harshly critical of Republicans who supported Obama’s stimulus plan, denied that his reluctance to endorse Crist had anything to do with Crist’s stand on the stimulus. He also declined to answer when asked if there would be political retribution against any of the Senate Republicans who voted for the stimulus package.

One of those Republicans, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has subsequently announced that he is switching parties to run for re-election as a Democrat in 2010.

“Arlen Specter voted himself out of the party,” Steele said. “He pushed himself away.”

But Steele said there would be no litmus tests for Republican candidates. “I need [a variety of] voices in the party, period,” he said.

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