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Tilting at Windmills in Florida

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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.

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About Clavos

Raised in Mexico by American parents, Clavos is proudly bi-cultural, and considers both Spanish and English as his native languages. A lifelong boating enthusiast, Clavos lives aboard his ancient trawler, Second Act, in Coconut Grove, Florida and enjoys cruising the Bahamas and Florida Keys from that base. When not dealing with the never-ending maintenance issues inherent in ancient trawlers, Clavos sells yachts to finance his boat habit, but his real love (after boating, of course) is writing and editing; a craft he has practiced at Blogcritics since 2006.
  • Zedd


    Your article was beautifully written. The second paragraph almost forced me to my feet with applause.

    However I don’t understand why being a shrewd politician is such bad thing. That seems to be the only indictment against Crist. You need individuals that are calculating in order to balance all of the elements that are involved in governance.

    I believe that our romanticized expectations of our leaders, especially American leaders, are devastating. Jimmy Steward as loveable as he was did a number on us. Our expectations of what it takes to be a good politician are irrational. What ends up happening is that the MOST cunning actors – not necessarily the best people for the job – end up in power, thus we end up with the mess that the Republican Party is.

    I like a person who is shrewd AND gets things done, YES through compromise/give and take. I like a person who knows how to survive politically and who understands the importance of equilibrium in governance.

  • That’s interesting, because if Scott is right, it would punch holes into Clavos’s article.

  • Baronius

    Scott, I’ve never heard that before. Would you care to flesh it out?

  • There’s something odd about today, Clavos. Keep on running into German films about South America – same director, this one about Peru – but starring Claudia Cardinale and some operatic singing (presumably by Enrico Caruso).

    You might want to look at it.

  • No Clavos and Roger, Rubio is the establishment. Crist bucked it, which is why he enjoys a huge favorable rating, or rather he did until he decided to run for Senate.

  • Clavos,

    You might be interesting in the following German-made movie, Aguirre The Wrath of God, about Don Pizzaro expedition.

  • Baronius

    Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio in Florida. Three conservatives running for major office in swing states. Average age, 47. It’s a long shot that all three would win, but the party could sure use that kind of infusion.

  • It’s about time people started bucking the establishment – never mind the frickin’ (establishment) polls. That alone is the best credential.

    And who thinks him “a punk”? The establishment politicians or the people?

  • Clavos

    Rubio is thought of as a punk in Tallahassee…

    Of course he is, he’s bucking the establishment pols, which is exactly what makes him attractive to the voters.

  • Scott Deitche

    Rubio is thought of as a punk in Tallahassee, but who knows how he’ll play out on the campaign trail.

  • A lit firecracker into a chicken soup?

    That’s a good one. Conjures up quite a mental image.

  • Exactly, Dreadful.

    The show must go on.

  • What I find ironic is that so many from the right are that quick to jump the gun on even the slightest hint of racism from the left while being so adamant it’s as good as nonexistent among their own ranks.

  • Roger’s done that a couple of times lately.

    I wonder if he’s tossing a lit firecracker into a chicken coop – just to see what will happen.

    Much as you sometimes do. 😉

  • Clavos, I was only kidding. I am quite aware that many Cubans have a white complexion (at least those I’ve met and worked with in NYC).

    It was just a play on words, prompted by Rep. Cris’s name.

  • Clavos

    Did you look at the NR cover picture, Roger?

    The only way Marco Rubio is “brown” is after spending a day at the beach.

    I never expected a racist comment from you.

  • A Republican savior – to replace the faltering C(h)ris(t)? Just what the country needs.

    But wait. It’s not just the Great White Hope in action. This time it’s the real McCoy – the brown Jesus.

  • Hope someone invents teletransportation soon. Then I could move to Hawaii.

  • Doug Hunter

    The republicans need new faces and new ideas. It looks like he might provide at least the former.