Defying all odds and all the pundits, Marco Rubio, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and a conservative Republican from Miami-Dade county, refuses to abandon his quixotic race for Mel Martinez’s abandoned senate seat against popular incumbent governor, Charlie Crist.
Crist, a shrewd politician who is always aware of which way the wind is blowing, unerringly following his sharply-honed instincts to skillfully harness Florida’s often hurricane-force political winds, doesn’t appear to be too worried by Rubio’s tilt at the senatorial windmill, however.
But perhaps Crist should be. Since he entered politics, Rubio’s rise through the Republican ranks has been swift. Born in Miami, May 28th, 1971, Rubio is the son of exiled Cuban parents. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Florida in 1993, and a JD degree (Cum Laude) from the University of Miami Law School in 1996. He then was elected to the Florida House in 2000 as a representative from West Miami’s 111th District in a special election, after first serving as a City Commissioner in that city.
Marco Rubio has been a rapidly rising star in the Florida Republican firmament ever since. He served as Majority Whip from 2000 to 2002, House Majority Leader from 2002 to 2004, and and was nominated to the House Speaker position in 2006, retaining that job until he was term limited out of office in 2008. During his tenure in the Florida House, Rubio introduced and championed a number of legislative initiatives, including model legislation for national adoption as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision regarding eminent domain and major improvements to public school curricula, as well as market incentive-based energy legislation.
Known as a strong conservative, Rubio announced his candidacy for the vacated Mel Martinez Senate seat on May 5, 2009, actually beating moderate Charlie Crist to the punch by a few days. Since then, Rubio has been working hard, tirelessly traveling the state seeking both votes and campaign funds. He is, of course, the underdog in the race, particularly as to campaign financing. According to Thomas McCall, writing on Examinerdotcom, “Crist has recently outraised Rubio approximately 12-1.” In July, Crist took in a hefty $4.3 million in campaign donations, dwarfing Rubio’s meager $340,000.
But, like Don Quixote himself, the feisty Marco Rubio refuses to quit, and it appears that his persistence is beginning to take fruit, as he attracts increasing attention nationwide. On September 27th, in an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post, venerable conservative columnist George Will opined that Rubio has a real shot at winning. Will wrote,
In January 2011, one Floridian will leave for the U.S. Senate. He is unlikely to be a former governor at odds with his party’s nominating electorate, or the probable Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, a hyper-liberal congressman. Rubio intends to prove that “in the most important swing state, you can run successfully as a principled conservative.” He probably will.
Will could well be right. Rubio has been beating Crist in straw polls all over the state; even, according to the St. Petersburg Times political blog, “The Buzz,” in Crist’s “back yard,” Hernando County, where a few days ago, Rubio scored a shutout over Crist.
National Review‘s cover story on the young maverick is a big boost for Rubio. Says NR’s John J. Miller in his story, titled “Rubio Rising,”
…A recent Mason–Dixon poll gave Crist a big lead over his rival, 51 percent to 23 percent.
The election remains a year away. For a primary, it’s late on the calendar: Aug. 24, 2010. That gives Rubio plenty of time to catch up. The details of the Mason–Dixon poll suggest that he’ll have a fighting chance. Among Republicans who are familiar with both candidates, Crist’s lead slips to statistical insignificance. It’s basically a dead heat.
Enthusiasm for the boyish-looking young lawyer from Miami runs high among Florida voters, who are beginning to tire of Crist’s quintessential insider political style and apparent lack of conviction or principles. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Mike Thomas noted in a recent op-ed:
There is a huge disconnect between the official polls, where Crist is far ahead, and the anecdotal evidence, where he appears very vulnerable.
Look at the comments on any Internet story about Crist, and you will see a slew of derogatory remarks, most by self-professed Republicans.
I talk politics with a lot of people and can’t recall anyone ever praising Crist for anything other than his political skills. Insiders who back him in public often privately lampoon his lack of depth and ignorance of policy.
Though it’s still early in the race, Rubio has received a few endorsements and one near-endorsement. In the latter category, Florida’s popular former governor, Jeb Bush, recently criticized the RNC’s support of Crist, saying, “I think he [Rubio} should be given a chance. I think that the idea that the national party would pick a winner a year and a half before an election is the wrong way to go.” Rubio has found support from outside Florida in the form of Congressman Jim DeMint (R-SC), and from within Florida, from Representatives Ginnie Brown-Waite, who hails from Crist’s neighborhood, Tampa Bay, and Republican US Rep. Jeff Miller of Chumukla.
The election, which comes early in Florida, is still eleven months away, and much can happen during that time. Marco Rubio must overcome steep odds to win: he needs to attract much stronger campaign funding than he has so far, and he certainly needs better support from the Florida Republican establishment.
On the plus side, though, Marco Rubio is a Latino candidate in a state with a sizable Latino population. He is a populist conservative in a traditionally conservative state, and he is energetic, photogenic, and very determined.
If he wins, so will Florida.