Romney Wants Early Fla. Primary, Backs National Catastrophe Fund

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is betting on an early Florida primary and continued his push for support this week, wooing Gov. Charlie Crist and speaking a lot about a top Florida insurance issue.

The former Massachusetts governor made flattering remarks about Crist before highlighting his impressive campaign team at a luncheon with Republican House members and taking policy questions from Republican senators.

He left no doubt that the talk of moving up the Florida primary is part of his overall strategy in winning the presidency.

“There’s no question that the focus on Florida is importantly the result of having an early primary,” Romney said. “Florida is going to have a big say in who is going to be the nominee in each of the parties so I want to be in Florida as often as I can be.”

Lawmakers are now close to agreeing on a Jan. 29 primary, which would put it ahead of states like California, New York and New Jersey, which have moved to a Feb. 5 election.

If so, the Romney team thinks that will be a plus.

“The primary will be icing on the cake if it gets changed. I think it will be beneficial to him given the organization we have,” said former House Speaker John Thrasher, who is a close friend to Bush.

At each stop during his five-hour visit to the capital. Romney talked about one of the top federal priorities for Crist and lawmakers in this hurricane-prone state – the creation of a national catastrophe insurance fund.

Romney said Massachusetts is also having a problem with insurance companies dropping policies along its coast, so he thinks there is merit to create a system where states share risks.

“You want as large a pool as you can possibly have. You want as many states participating as you possibly can,” Romney said, acknowledging that states with low risk may not want to participate.

Crist was glad he had an interest.

“The first test is open-mindedness to it. Clearly he is that,” said Crist, who has also been courted by Republican candidates Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Crist hasn’t endorsed a candidate, though Romney, Giuliani and McCain came to Florida last fall to help him get elected. Romney, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, gave the state Republican party a $1 million check to help Crist’s effort.