The Crack Of Doom For Charlie Crist

When the establishment lines up behind a candidate in a Republican primary, it makes that candidate hard to beat. Look back to Pat Toomey vs. Arlen Specter in 2004 and Lincoln Chafee vs. Steve Laffey in 2006 for two great examples of that. In both cases, the establishment was the decisive factor in beating candidates that were more popular with the base and in both cases, it ultimately backfired as Chafee and Specter left the Republican Party.

Now, down in Florida, the inside-the-Beltway crowd is trying to go 3-for-3 with their support of Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio. Crist, who’s a pro-stimulus package, pro-cap and trade squish out of the Chafee/Specter mold, is up against Marco Rubio, a young, up-and-coming, Hispanic conservative who’s the former Florida Speaker-of-the-House.

This time, however, despite the fact that Charlie Crist has the Beltway elite of the Republican Party lined up squarely behind him, things are likely to turn out far differently than in the past. There are a number of reasons for this.

First off, there’s no compelling reason for conservative Republicans to support Crist over Rubio. Given how strong the Republican tide is likely to be in 2010 and how weak the Democratic field is likely to be in Florida, either Rubio or Crist should be able to win and do so without outside funds from the NRSC. So, why would Republicans want a squish who has long been rumored to have a Larry Craig problem as their nominee, when he’s not even a sure bet to remain in the GOP long-term? Sure, a guy like Charlie Crist might be the best we could do in a state like Maine or New York, but why would we want someone like Crist representing the party in Florida?

Yet and still, normally the name recognition Crist has earned as governor of Florida, his talent for fundraising, and the support of the NRSC might be enough to guarantee a win in the primary against a lesser known opponent.

However, the Rubio vs. Crist race has captured the imagination of the conservative media. Conservative bloggers, including Right Wing News, got the ball rolling by launching a much deserved attack on the NRSC over its endorsement of Crist. It’s no coincidence that the NRSC has been dodging questions about it ever since; nor is it a coincidence that NRSC Chair John Cornyn got raucously booed at the Austin Tea Party.

But, the movement for Rubio hasn’t remained confined to just the blogosphere. Jim DeMint, Mike Huckabee, and Dick Armey have all endorsed Rubio. They won’t be the last ones either. Whom people support in that primary will be a litmus test. The conservatives will be backing Rubio while the Beltway elites and squishes will be behind Crist. Whom people back in that primary will be a clear indicator of where people stand in a fight for the soul of the Republican Party.

Moreover, the conservative media has embraced Rubio. If you want to see proof of that, look at the cover of the upcoming dead tree edition of National Review:

Marco Rubio on the cover of National Review

Here’s an excerpt from the piece,

Behind the rhetoric and panache, there’s substance. When Rubio became speaker, he unveiled a plan to develop “100 innovative ideas for Florida’s future.” He and other officials traveled the state, holding “idea-raisers” with voters. The stated goal was to find ways to improve life in Florida without unduly increasing the size of government. The result was a conservative legislative agenda, released on the web and as a short book. Judging from the recommendations Rubio adopted, it would seem that everybody in Florida was an intern at the Heritage Foundation. Fifty-seven of the proposals were passed, many of them small-bore. The most ambitious was No. 96, which called for capping or eliminating the state property tax and replacing it with a revenue-neutral sales-tax hike. “We couldn’t get Crist or the state senators to go along with it — they didn’t want to be bold,” says Rubio. “That was probably my biggest disappointment as speaker. Florida could be in a much stronger position today.” In his bid for the Senate, tax reform remains his No. 1 talking point.

Rubio’s efforts on the campaign trail are starting to pay off. This summer, he has won lopsided victories in straw polls conducted by GOP executive committees. In June, Pasco County Republicans favored Rubio by a vote of 73 to 9. In July, Rubio trounced Crist in Lee County (60 to 11) and Highland County (75 to 1). Technically, these tallies are meaningless. Yet they express a growing disillusionment with Crist at the party’s core. The governor’s global-warming alarmism has unsettled conservatives for a long time. Then there’s his appointment of a liberal to the state supreme court, his approval of a state budget that raises cigarette taxes, and his hug of Obama at a political event in support of the president’s spending plans. On August 12, Republicans in Palm Beach County held a vote to censure Crist. The measure failed, but only because the final vote was a tie. In this environment, Rubio begins to look like an attractive alternative.

As you can see by those straw polls, the more Republicans know about both candidates, they heavier they break for Rubio. When the conservative media is backing Rubio so strongly that NR is putting him on the cover of its print mag a year before the primary, that means that Florida Republicans are going to know all about him by the time the primary rolls around. That bodes ill for Charlie Crist who, at this point, despite his lead in the polls and fundraising advantage, has to now be considered the underdog.

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