The full-contact race for a U.S. Senate seat between former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a red-meat conservative, and Charlie Crist, Florida's ideologically agnostic governor, threw off a few sparks Sunday morning in a lively 40-minute debate on Fox News Sunday. Chris Wallace asked the questions, refereed, and broke the clinches.
Sunday's match-up gave viewers across the nation a close-up and personal look at this high profile race, and instructed them as to why Crist has steadily lost ground to his conservative opponent in a pro-conservative, anti-incumbent year where big-government Republicans are as out of style as leisure suits.
Both fighters were standing at the end. But conservative Florida Republicans, those most likely to vote in the August primary, would find it difficult to conclude that Crist won even a single round. What they saw was a desperate Crist, behind in the polls and hobbled by having to run on a moderate-to-liberal record as governor, swinging wildly on credibility charges against Rubio. Charges that are themselves of questionable credibility.
Asked what was at stake, Rubio focused on his pledge to oppose the leftward lurch of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. He talked about the threats from the left to all things that have made America the free and prosperous country that it has been (though less free and less prosperous when the left, or compassionate conservatives, call the shots). He painted Crist as an Obama enabler. Asked the same question, Crist talked about Rubio's haircuts and tax returns.
I've done an exhaustive review of the list of 100,000 top concerns Floridians have for their potential U.S. Senators. I was unable to locate "where the candidate gets his haircut and how much he pays for it" on the list. But Crist has been in politics for 18 years now, and may be on to something the rest of us just haven't realized yet.
The haircut issue comes from a $134 charge Rubio placed on a Republican Party of Florida credit card when he was Speaker of the Florida House and traveling the state to recruit and support Republican candidates and causes. Of the $134 spent in a salon in Miami, Rubio has said $20 went for a haircut and the rest was for gift certificates purchased in the salon to be used as silent auction items at a Republican Party event. Crist knows this.
So the guy who supported Obama's $787 billion "stimulus" slush fund before it was adopted and attempted to saddle Florida with its own carbon cap and trade program wants to turn trifling items such as this "haircut" charge into evidence that Rubio is untrustworthy and fiscally unsound. Good luck with that.
Crist also charged that Rubio was a lobbyist while he was in the Florida Legislature. Technically true because of a peculiar ordinance of Miami-Dade County, where Rubio practiced law, that obliges attorneys arguing land use cases before the county commission to register as lobbyists, though clearly they are not engaging in lobbying as that vocation is usually understood. Crist knows this. Even the reliably liberal St. Petersburg Times, which rarely misses an opportunity to criticize Rubio, says the lobbying while legislating charge is nonsense.
When Wallace was able to nudge the issue-averse Crist back to the subject of what voters are actually interested in, Crist didn't help his case. He conceded that had he been in the Senate in 2009 he would have voted for Obama's budget-busting slush fund saying, "It was the right thing to do at the time. The economy was literally falling off a cliff."
And it continued over the precipice after the slush fund was adopted and $8.2 billion of "stimulus" money was spent in Florida. Crist makes the comically precise claim that 87,000 jobs in Florida, including the jobs of 20,000 teachers, were saved by slush fund spending. This has to be a dazzling example of new math (perhaps Democrat math), as 211,000 Floridians have lost their jobs since the slush fund was adopted, and Florida's official unemployment rate is 12.2 percent, the highest rate since the state began keeping these statistics in 1970.
The national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent, more than two points higher than when Crist was trying to get the Florida Congressional delegation to vote for Obama's hyper-spending plan rather than the targeted tax cuts and more seemly federal spending other Republicans were supporting. The slush fund was so popular in the Senate, which Crist wants to join, that only three Republicans voted for it: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Planet Specter, who is now a Democrat.
While we're dropping names, Crist said that the U.S. Senators he admires most, and who he would presumably emulate if he went to the Senate, are John McCain (who Crist endorsed for president in 2008) and Lindsey Graham. Both are quirky guys who give conservatives the fantods, night sweats, large bowel complaints, and the odd case of lockjaw. Both are supporters of cap and trade. Both whooped up a 2007 immigration law, fortunately beaten back, which would have effectively given every person on Earth and on the closer planets a get-into-America-free card. They both gave speeches saying anyone who opposed their awful bill, which was a clear majority of Americans, were nativist yahoos.
Rubio says his favorite senator is conservative icon Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Senator who gets it. Gets it so well that he is one of the few to have earned a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union for his voting record.
Unlike Crist, Rubio said that had he been in the Senate he would have voted against the slush fund and instead would have lowered capital gains taxes, corporate taxes, and flattened tax rates. "The Stimulus was a failure," Rubio said, demonstrating a firm grasp of the obvious.
Crist also bobbed and weaved on Social Security and other entitlement reform. He said he's opposed to raising the retirement age for SS and claims we could fix things by eliminating that hardy Washington perennial (all together now), waste, fraud, and abuse. Rubio conceded that the retirement age for his generation -- he will be 39 in May -- may have to be raised, cost of living indexes recalibrated, and perhaps even means testing introduced to ensure Social Security will survive. It takes a sturdy testosterone count to say these sorts of things in retirement-haven Florida.
Other issues were touched on, but these are probably enough to demonstrate why Crist trails Rubio, depending on which poll you believe, between 11 and 32 points. And to understand why Crist is going negative, even though the stuff he's going negative on is thin gruel indeed.
Perhaps when Crist loses in August, which barring a miracle he will, a grateful Obama will recognize the early support Crist gave his administration and will reward Crist with an appointment to the newly created post of Secretary of Haircuts.
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