On Thursday, former Florida House Speaker and Senate candidate Marco Rubio said in an interview that he would have “ultimately” accepted some federal stimulus money had he been governor. A rallying cry against his opponent, Governor Charlie Crist, is that Crist accepted the stimulus, publicly rallied with the president for the package, and even physically embraced President Obama during the rally. Conservatives have jumped on board the Rubio bandwagon, but his recent comment on the stimulus leaves many Florida movement conservatives wondering if they are being sold a lemon.
In an interview with Florida conservative Chris Ingram, Rubio qualified his remarks saying that he would have only accepted “non-recurring” stimulus projects, which he indicated as infrastructure projects as opposed to government staff and salary funds. A Rubio spokesperson last night contended that the comments do not indicate a position shift and pointed out the difference between rallying for the funds and simply accepting some of the dollars.
Rubio has been described as the “Beltway Candidate” due to his widespread support among national and DC conservatives. According to a data study at FrumForum, more than one third of Rubio’s financing comes from out of state, whereas Crist has proportionately done much better financially inside Florida. Rubio has already received support from national conservative PACs and figures such as the Club For Growth, Senator Jim DeMint, Karl Rove, and Mike Huckabee.
The Saint Petersburg Times published a piece in November arguing that Rubio’s campaign rhetoric has diverged from a more moderate record in the Florida House. Politically, he needed to win over conservatives to build a base early on in his campaign, and he has largely done so.
But the stimulus comment may indicate an emerging task for Rubio: he needs to win over Florida voters. Despite support from the national conservative movement, Rubio is still reported as trailing Crist by double digits in the primary polls and is also polling behind Democrat hopeful Kendrick Meek in the general election in some polls. Saying that he would accept stimulus money indicates a concern for Floridians over general principles. Yet, in a state with 11.2 percent unemployment, Florida voters might be comforted to know that a candidate would accept a federal handout.
The primary is not until August, and is likely to continue to be highly contested. Whenever Rubio upsets the base, one might want to take relative comfort by re-watching the videos of Crist hugging Obama.