Sheriff Crowder: I Probably Cooked My Campaign Chances With 2010 Cross-Party Endorsement
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He backed Democrat Alex Sink in the 2010 gubernatorial election. No -- he did more than that. He campaigned for her, on national television and in high-profile TV spots.
Nevertheless, the affable sheriff holds out hope that he can pull out a victory in the GOP primary for the new District 18 -- or at least be close to his opulently financed and better-supported opponent -- when the final ballots are tallied Aug. 14.
The local party had no problem tossing him aside and district polls show a wide gap between him and the incumbent forced to run in the new district, flame thrower U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, who is looking to represent the Northern Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast market.
Crowder contends the local party leadership has become "more radical and less responsible."
“I’ve never been one to turn away from something I believe in and I don’t believe the other guy is the right person to repres,” Crowder said on Saturday, speaking of residents in Martin, St. Lucie and northern Palm Beach counties.
“But they’re pulling out all the stops. What can you do?”
Some among local GOP leadership claim the stew Crowder has brewed on his political resume should be seen as a cautionary tale for others.
In a guest column appearing in Saturday’s Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Eric Miller, the Martin County state committeeman for the Republican Party, wrote this:
“For the past several months we, as the Republican leadership in our respective counties, have been subjected to a deliberately orchestrated media campaign of false innuendoes, painting us as a bunch of intolerant extremists, and vindictive to those who don't agree 100 percent with our platform.
“By breaking with a three-decades-old tradition and endorsing Congressman Allen West, the Martin County Republican Executive Committee has set the record straight, and reaffirmed what we stand for.”
Certainly many of the executive committee members from Martin County have a history of rooting out RINOs.
In November 2009, party members were among the first to embrace now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, filling the lobby of an Interstate 95 hotel to hear him speak even though he was nearly 20 points behind Gov. Charlie Crist in the race for the U.S. Senate.
The county GOP executive committee voted 55-3 to back West on July 9, joining positions taken by party leaders in St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties. Historically, the local parties avoid taking sides in primaries.
As Kevin Wagner, political science assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University, points out, “endorsing a candidate for a major statewide office from the opposing party is not going to win many friends.”
Crowder has clashed several times with state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, first by publicly questioning state Republican leadership over funding for a juvenile boot camp that was shut down for lack of state funding.
The difference would result in Crowder not backing Negron in the 2006 congressional race in which Negron replaced former Rep. Mark Foley. Crowder also fought Negron over a plan to require voters to re-approve children’s services councils. Crowder’s wife was deeply connected to the council in Martin County.
That battle drove a fissure through a longtime friendship Crowder had with state Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, who had been a major with the sheriff’s office prior to running for state office.
But Crowder may have been able to survive those indiscretions had he not appeared in uninform endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink against Rick Scott in 2010.
“They want to think for you and I’m not wired that way,” Crowder said.
In Saturday’s column, Miller wrote that “Allen West has been a consistent champion of developing constitutional solutions for rebuilding our economy and permanent job growth through the private sector; reducing wasteful spending; a strong national security; securing our borders; enforcing immigration laws; keeping taxes low, and reforming our tax code.
“Further, we know that if we send Allen West to Congress with a full basket of good will, we will not have half of it taken because he compromised while reaching across party lines,” Miller added. "Compromise works best in two directions. Allen West understands this and knows that when it comes to compromise, values are not negotiable.”
Crowder says he isn’t leaving the party, but many of its leaders have shifted away from the party’s traditional, long-held positions.
“We’re supposed to be about the conservative approach to government, less government spending, having less interference in people’s lives,” Crowder said.
“It’s obvious that those on the executive committee want to do our thinking for us. And that’s not part of democracy.”
Wagner agrees that activists have taken an increasing power role within the party organization.
“There was a time that parties, and the state party in particular, was run more by establishment figures whose focus was more technical than ideological. Increasingly, ideological activism has brought energy, but less flexibility to parties,” Wagner said.
Still, despite internal party polls, Crowder’s hope rests in the fact that registered party members who have started sending in their absentee ballots for the primary also view the party the same way.
“I believe the majority of the party is still like it used to be,” Crowder said.
If they are, “It will be the story of the year if our little $64,000 campaign can defeat (West's) $9.9 million campaign.”
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.