Rubio in ascendancy

From Michael Putney at the local fishwrap:

No more Mr. Nice Guy? Nah, Charlie Crist is constitutionally incapable of not being a nice guy. But he’s capable of getting P.O.’d at Marco Rubio and irritated with the media over what he sees as their kid-glove treatment of his GOP Senate challenger.

Conservative opinion-shapers have been talking up Rubio as the only real Republican in the race. Rush Limbaugh recently mentioned Rubio and Reagan in the same breath while George Will, in his syndicated column and on ABC’s This Week, has praised Rubio’s intellectual heft and conservative bona fides.

Just a couple of months ago the notion that Crist could be beaten in the primary, much less the general election, was laughable. Except for Rubio, a 38-year-old Cuban-American lawyer from Miami whose political career appeared to have peaked as speaker of the Florida House.

Now, thanks to a lot of hard work, a shrewd strategy and a message that resonates with disgruntled conservatives, Rubio is gaining ground. Crist, by his own admission, is going through a “rough patch.”

The rough patch, of course, is entirely of his own making. It was Crist who went on CNN and told Wolf Blitzer he didn’t “endorse” the president’s economic-stimulus plan. “Heck, I didn’t have a vote on the darned thing.” But Crist, as the whole political world knows, wrote ecstatic letters to the president praising the stimulus and gave Obama a big abrazo in Fort Myers last February.

Pal of Rothstein’s

That’s one video clip Crist would like to see disappear. Along with all the photos of the governor and disgraced Ft. Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein. Especially the one showing the two of them blowing out the candles on the governor’s birthday cake last year. That cost Rothstein a $52,000 contribution to the state GOP. It could cost Crist much more.

I asked Crist last week if he regretted getting so close to the alleged Ponzi artist. “Well, you know hindsight is 20-20,” Crist told me, “and I wasn’t the only one who got sucked in.”

Crist’s political skills are formidable. He charmed about 300 of the GOP faithful in Broward recently and was at pains to remind them of how conservative he is. “I’m pro-life, I’m pro-gun, I’m pro-family and I’m anti-tax. I don’t know what else you’re supposed to be except maybe angry, too.”

Many conservatives are angry at Crist for what they call a sell-out on stimulus money and an assortment of things like appointing judges they deem too liberal and restoring felons’ civil rights. “I think he needs to show people he’s conservative enough,” says Douglas Blanz, president of the Republican Business Network in Coral Springs. I talked to Blanz at a community center in Coral Springs where Rubio spoke recently, one stop on a months-long, grueling campaign tour of Florida Republican clubs and county GOP committees. About 125 people showed up to hear Rubio, who arrived without an entourage, dressed in chinos and an open-neck sport shirt.

He had barely begun his remarks before heads in the audience began bobbing in agreement. He speaks without notes, delivering a message at once deeply felt and deeply conservative: He believes in American exceptionalism and says it’s threatened by short-sighted politicians in Washington, most but not all of them Democrats. “The message from Washington is that we must become more like the rest of the world,” Rubio said. “I believe we need to send people to Washington who will stand up to that agenda.”

Rubio’s world view

Rubio’s stump speech is complex and nuanced, replete with historical and political references. It’s an amazingly coherent world view for such a relatively young man. And while it’s undeniably conservative, on the night I heard him he did not mention guns, abortion or “family values.” Not at least in that language. If Charlie Crist speaks in political short-hand, Rubio speaks in long-hand, aided and abetted by postings on Facebook and Twitter.

He is making converts among Florida conservatives who voted for Crist, but are disappointed with his job performance. One of them, Patricia Chandler of Coconut Creek, told me that she thinks Crist is really a Democrat in Republican clothing. “I voted for him,” she said, “but I’m voting for Rubio in the primary.”

Crist and his campaign team need to reconnect with her and other disgruntled Republicans. To stop spending all their time raising money and get out on the hustings like Rubio. The governor also needs to spend more time governing. And take a firm stand on some tough issues. His current strategy isn’t working. The guy once deemed unbeatable is looking a little vulnerable — to the guy who had no chance at all. Now, he does.

You’re “anti-tax” Charlie? That’s news to me. I can’t wait to vote in the primaries…

1 thought on “Rubio in ascendancy”

  1. Speaking as a life-long Republican: Charlie Crist is a little weasel. If we as Republicans do not take care of him in the primaries, the Democrats will in the general elections.

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