Florida GOP Chief Resigns in Bow to Tea Partiers

Miami, Fla. -- Amid increasing criticism, embattled Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer announced Tuesday that he plans to step down from his post next month, saying his resignation is an effort to heal the current acrimony among Republican Party members in the state.

"I have always put the party first even when criticisms were misdirected and accusations were false," Greer said in a quickly-planned conference call with reporters.

During the call, Greer also acknowledged that critics within the party have been pushing for his removal over the last couple months. Greer, a supporter of Gov. Charlie Crist, pointed to "a very vocal group that has been very active in seeking efforts to oust me as chairman" in part because of his support for Crist's Senate campaign.

Greer said that his critics have "distorted" facts about him and his leadership and "have basically thrown everything up against the wall to embarrass me."

Tea party activists and some grassroot Republicans in Florida have criticized Greer for his early support of Crist and for his "big tent" approach to Republicanism, which they have described as too moderate.

If he didn't step down, Greer said this element in the party would "burn the house down and try to destroy the Republican Party."

"While some are more interested in tearing and shredding the fabric of the Republican Party to pieces, I will not be a participant in this destructive behavior," he said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Greer "understood that his presence was creating more division than necessary."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said Greer's departure is another sign the GOP is being hijacked. 

"By deposing the top party official in a state that is virtually unmatched in electoral importance, and that has perhaps the most contested GOP Senate primary race of 2010, the tea party movement has landed a powerful blow squarely on the chin of the Republican Party, " Kaine said in a statement. Greer’s departure confirms that the GOP’s biggest liability this year will be its right-wing that sees November’s elections as an opportunity to purify the Party -- at any cost."

Greer will be replaced by state Sen. John Thrasher, a move that earned the blessing of party insiders.

"There could be no better choice than Senator John Thrasher to lead Republican candidates to victory in 2010," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement. "He understands and appreciates every aspect of an effective political organization, including the importance of our grassroots supporters, coalition building, voter registration and fundraising efforts." 

Greer has served for three years as the state GOP chairman, a position he earned in part because of his close alliance with Crist. Crist has been a target of some conservatives in Florida who have abandoned him in favor of the insurgent campaign of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.

In a statement, Crist commended his friend for his "selfless dedication" to the state GOP.

"Under Chairman Greer's leadership we maintained a strong majority in Florida's congressional delegation and overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate," Crist wrote.

A recent Rasmussen poll showed Crist and Rubio in a dead heat for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Mel Martinez. Crist appointed George LeMieux as a placeholder after Martinez' resignation last August. The Republican primary election will be held in August.