Choice of Thrasher for Florida's GOP chairman displeases some

John Thrasher could be the perfect salve for what ails the Republican Party of Florida. The veteran legislator and lobbyist from St. Augustine is a polished dealmaker, a proven fundraiser and a stalwart conservative at a time when the party is riven by infighting.

But Thrasher's swift coronation by the party's elite as the next party chairman immediately after Jim Greer's resignation Tuesday has created new problems for the party, too.

The crush of endorsements from half a dozen of the state's top Republican officials sought to showcase party unity but rankled some grass-roots activists who hadn't digested Greer's departure. The staged show of support carried unpleasant echoes of the party establishment's push to crown Gov. Charlie Crist as Florida's next U.S. senator over rival Marco Rubio.

Questions cropped up about Thrasher's ability to represent his constituents and the party at the same time in a crucial election year. "The heavy-handedness of what happened yesterday was disrespectful," said Sharon Day, a longtime activist who has been lining up support to challenge Thrasher from her Fort Lauderdale condominium. "It was like, 'By the way, here's your new chairman.' "

Day's underdog campaign threatens to keep Florida Republicans divided a little longer as the 2010 election approaches. The state party is holding its annual meeting Saturday in Orlando and will vote Feb. 20 on Greer's replacement.

"For the good of their state and their country, we call on all Republicans to join us," urged a group of former lawmakers who rallied Wednesday behind Thrasher.

While state party leaders are rarely familiar to voters, they wield enormous power in recruiting candidates and steering millions of dollars in campaign donations.

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