TEA PARTYConservative Tea Party activists had loads of fun in Boston last month helping Scott Brown chuck Teddy Kennedy’s forever-Democratic Senate seat into Republican waters.

Now the painted warriors hope to stage a reenactment of Florida’s Dade Massacre, with Republican Gov. Charlie Crist playing the ill-fated Maj. Dade.

A new Rasmussen Reports poll shows Crist 12 percentage points behind former state House Speaker and Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in Florida’s Republican primary contest for the U.S. Senate. Rubio leads Crist 49 percent to 37 percent.

Rubio’s lead is only just outside the poll’s 5 percentage point margin of error, and 11 percent of USA/the 449 people surveyed say they’re undecided. But the numbers suggest a fundamental change in voter sentiment since August, when Crist’s support stood at 53 percent. Rubio and Crist both hold a double-digit lead over likely Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, in the general election campaign to replace retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez.

Rubio’s fortunes present an important test of the Tea Party movement’s ability to draw votes. But there may be more than that at stake. Pundits say the Tea Party movement needs national leadership to become a true force in American politics. A Senate victory for Rubio could help give them that in time for the 2012 presidential election campaign.   ARMEY