Anti-socialist warrior and Charlie Crist opponent Marco Rubio talks about himself and his Senate campaign.
TAMPA — Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami is one of the most conservative of the new names seeking U.S. Senate seats in 2010. He’s 38, the son of blue-collar Cuban immigrants, and he compiled a solid conservative record in eight years in the Florida House, the last two as speaker.
Rubio is challenging Florida’s sitting Republican governor Charlie Crist for the nomination to the Senate seat Mel Martinez recently resigned from. But in his campaign speeches his political target is more the Obama administration and its leftward lurch than it is Crist, whom he rarely mentions.
Early in the year Rubio wasn’t given much of a chance. Crist, though of no discernible philosophical stripe and of no accomplishment anyone could point to, was popular, and a money-machine, as governors can be, on the campaign trail. Rubio, by contrast, trailed Crist in most polls by 25 points or so, and wasn’t raising much money. In August, if the race were a fight, the ref would have stopped it.
But then some interesting things started to happen. Rubio has run a vigorous campaign. He’s gotten positive notice from national conservative pundits and publications for his record and his campaign planks. He raised more than a million dollars in the last fund-raising quarter. The latest polls show Crist’s job approval numbers dropping and Rubio has cut the Crist lead in half in two months, even though there are still many Republican Floridians who don’t know Rubio. There’s ten months left before the August primary and Rubio has the mo. This one is now a race.
It’s a race because of the problematic nature of Crist. Crist, at different times has been called a moderate, a populist, a liberal, and a conservative. On many issues of importance, Crist feels very strongly both ways. He’s been all over the political map, one time talking about keeping taxes and government spending and intrusion down, other times whooping up cap and trade and championing our rookie president’s stimulus slush fund. His conservative credentials are further inconvenienced by the fact that he’s recommended Florida adopt California’s expensive auto emissions standards, was enthusiastic about the Kennedy/McCain “We Don’t Need No Stinking Borders Act of 2007,” has recently appointed a liberal justice to the Florida Supreme Court, and is totally absent whenever it’s time to say positive things about conservative social issues.
In Florida’s Senate primary next year, Florida Republicans have about as clear an ideological choice as is ever found in a Republican primary. Before a campaign appearance Friday night in front of a few hundred enthusiasts at a dinner put on by the North Tampa Republican Club, I had a chance to sit down with Rubio. His answers to my questions give a feel for what kind of a conservative he is.
TAS: Why do you think your campaign is increasingly successful, both in collecting money and in better poll numbers?
Rubio: I think it’s because my candidacy offers Floridians the opportunity to decide that we don’t want to be the party of cap and trade, that we don’t want to be the party of stimulus, that in fact we want to send people to Washington who will stand up to the direction this administration is taking our country and offer a clear alternative. We already have a Democratic Party. We don’t need two Democratic parties.
The base is enthusiastic about our candidacy. An authentic center-right message, an authentic limited-government message is where the mainstream of American politics is. The extremists in American politics are the ones who want government to take over our economy. The extremists are the ones who want government to dictate energy policy. The extremists are the ones who want America to become more like the rest of the world and less like the exceptional country that we know and love. Those are the ones who are out of touch with everyday Americans. Those of us who believe government shouldn’t spend money it doesn’t have, who believe the government shouldn’t become so involved in the economy that it becomes impossible to open a business in the spare bedroom of your home, we’re in the mainstream of American thought.
TAS: You’re making a lot of appearances. Your ground game, aka retail campaigning, has been producing results. Will you be sticking with it?
Rubio: When someone meets you, when they hear you speak in person, when someone in their lives that they know refers you to them, when they hear good things about you from a neighbor, a friend, or a loved one, that kind of support is permanent and lasting and meaningful and has roots. When all people know about you is what they’ve seen in a 30-second TV commercial, an alternative 30-second commercial can take them away from you. So I like the way we’re building our name recognition. When we started very few people knew who we were. Now it’s clear that at least half of Florida’s Republicans have come to learn about us, and of that half an overwhelming majority support us. Now we have the other half to reach. They’ll be harder to reach and it will take some money to get there. But we’re going to reach them in a way that is lasting and meaningful. That’s why I’m confident that we’re going to win this election.
TAS: Charlie Crist has run some ads where he claims he’s a conservative because, he alleges, he cut $7 billion from Florida budget this year, while failing to mention that Florida’s constitution requires a balanced budget, the recession diminished Florida’s state revenues, and the Florida Legislature was obliged to cut the budget. Crist really didn’t have much to do with it. What does this tell you?
Rubio: He’s running that ad all over the state and spending a significant amount of money doing it. I think behind that ad is the cynical idea that if you can raise enough money you can fool people. You can get them to forget who you were, and in fact you can re-invent yourself. I don’t think it’s going to work.
Anyone who goes to paid advertising this early in the campaign is scared about something. We’ve heard the ads that Charlie Crist has run on the radio, where for example he claims that the Cato Institute ranks him the nation’s number one conservative governor. Cato now says that was before Charlie raised taxes and fees in Florida by $2 billion, before he embraced cap and trade, before he went on stage and supported Barack Obama’s stimulus package. And we know all the other parts of his record that are troubling. He seems to have this notion that he can raise enough money to confuse people about what he’s about.
My campaign is going to tell people who I am. I have a record in public service that I’m proud of. The things I’m talking about and supporting today are no different than the ones I supported three years ago when everyone was saying we needed to moderate our message. I’m confident about who I am and am prepared to campaign on that.
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