Conservative Rubio pulls ahead in Florida Republican primary
Conservative Republican Marco Rubio is building a lead over moderate Governor Charlie Crist in Florida’s Republican Senate primary, a contest highlighting the perils facing party moderates in this rambunctious election year, a poll shows.
A Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Republican primary voters released this week showed Rubio, a former Florida House Speaker, with 54 percent support against Crist’s 36 percent. A poll in January had Rubio ahead by 13 points.
The primary race has echoes in Arizona, where veteran Senator John McCain faces his strongest challenge yet from fiery conservative J.D. Hayworth, who is attacking his “moderate record” on taxes, social issues and the bank bailout.
Rubio, who like Hayworth is a favorite of Tea Party conservative activists who hope to make a splash in the 2010 congressional election and beyond, is campaigning on issues including opposition to “excessive and wasteful spending in Washington” and big government.
He is assailing Crist for taking funds from the $787 billion federal government stimulus, and for his willingness to work with Democratic President Barack Obama — a definite no-no with Republican hard-liners.
“While Republicans were advocating for targeted efforts based on broad-based tax relief and spending reforms, Charlie Crist ignored those efforts, instead siding with Barack Obama and congressional Democrats in favor of the largest spending bill in American history,” Rubio said in a statement released on Wednesday.
“The differences between my opponent and me on the stimulus and on the virtues of limited government versus a heavy-handed, big-spending government represent the defining issues of this campaign,” he added.
Crist, a popular governor who until recently was seen as a shoo-in for the party’s Senate nomination, said last month that he had no regrets about working with Obama, and that accepting the funds was “the right thing to do.”
“We needed the money. And it saved 87,000 jobs in our state, and you know, I was raised to respect the presidency of the United States,” he said.
A Quinnipiac University poll in late January had Rubio with a more slender three-point lead in the race, which is tipped to be hard-fought all the way to polling day on Aug. 24.
Reuters photo by Mark Wallheiser