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Florida's Rubio and Crist Senate struggle is settled, revealing GOP turmoil and Tea Party clout


While the nation's political attention was riveted Monday on Vice President Joe Biden's latest closed meetings with "senior advisers," the Florida Republican Senate primary race was settled.

All right, no one cares about JB's meetings even with junior advisers. And the attention was actually focused more on his boss's quick overnight visit to Los Angeles to harvest a few million more California dollars for Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic National Committee's uphill campaign climb this fall.

As The Ticket reported here Monday night, the Democrat president was heckled by gays angry over his unwillingness/inability to lift the "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" military policy, despite repeated promises and pleas for patience.

Meanwhile in another state famous for sunshine, Mitt Romney endorsed former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP Senate primary over incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist. And on the same day the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Ron Jesmer, basically unendorsed Crist and pronounced him politically dead for now.

Other than that, a pretty quiet day on the GOP front.

The moves are fascinating simultaneous examples of several things: the varying....

...currents roiling the party of Lincoln left leaderless nationally by the simultaneous departures of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the evolving strength and influence of the Tea Party movement within and without the GOP, the clubiness of professional politicians and the immutable law of what-goes-around-comes-around, good and bad. 

OK, see if you can follow along because it's very revealing about how contemporary American politics functions:

Crist was seen early as the odds-on favorite for the Republican nomination and quite possibly the seat vacated unexpectedly by Republican Mel Martinez. But remember a year ago when President Obama went to Florida to tout his massive $787 billion economic stimulus plan and the Republican governor showed up professing job concerns? Crist got a friendly, but lethal Obama hug on-stage.

That kind of symbolic GOP political sedition coincided with the grassroots emergence of the often independent Tea Party, a movement opposed to large government taxes, to large government bailing out large companies and to large government spending large sums of little taxpayers' money, whatever party is involved.

Enter Rubio, the heretofore little-known son of Cuban immigrants who positioned himself as opposed to all things big government and Obama.

In ensuing months, as Rubio received the kind of interstate Tea Party support that benefited Scott Brown in his unlikely January Massachusetts Senate victory, Crist's once unbeatable 31-point poll margin melted into what now seems an insurmountable Rubio lead.

Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist and Democrat president Barack Obama embrace in early 2009

Last year when Crist's win was a gimme, the Republican Senate committee led by Texas Sen. John Cornyn routinely endorsed him as the establishment candidate.


Florida Republicans had other ideas that, once again, didn't match D.C. thinking.

Now as the filing deadline nears for the state's Aug. 24 primary, Crist has not squelched rumors he's pondering an independent candidacy. Polls show him finishing third in such a race, but he could cut into Rubio's support come fall.

To save face for Cornyn and attempt to pressure Crist, Jesmer, the executive director, sent out an unusual and unsolicited e-mail memo Monday noon to Republican strategists across the country, pronouncing Crist's Republican candidacy dead this time and urging everyone to convince the governor to drop out completely.

To ensure that the memo leaked immediately, Jesmer called it "a quick off-the-record assessment." That worked perfectly. Crist was forced to deny that such pressure would have any effect and said he was still considering his options. 

Jesmer said the committee would support Rubio no matter what Crist did and added: "We have communicated this message indirectly (to Crist) and would have given it to the governor directly had he returned Senator Cornyn’s phone call.” Take that, you insolent governor who won't call back an important U.S. senator.

Now, here's the revealing payback part: During the 2007-08 year of competition for the Republican presidential nomination, many wannabe nominees sought Crist's endorsement, among them Romney, former N.Y. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. John McCain.

In the end Crist endorsed McCain. In return this year, McCain endorsed Crist for this race, despite McCain's own re-election troubles with a conservative challenger in Arizona and his seemingly contradictory campaign support from Tea Party fave Sarah Palin, who was herself paying McCain back for picking her as his VP partner in 2008.

However, Huckabee and Giuliani endorsed Rubio. And Monday Romney joined them, denouncing government bailouts and adding, "We're saying we want to let Americans pursue their own dreams." Whatever that means.

The endorsement of an ex-Massachusetts governor is unlikely to have any real voter impact in Florida.

But it does add to the impression of Rubio's momentum, to the isolation of Crist and, well beyond Florida, sends a strong signal to Republican candidates and activists elsewhere about the strength of the conservative currents growing during this midterm election year -- and, if they are successful on Nov. 2, in the ensuing two years leading up to 2012.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Freddie Lee / Fox News Sunday (Crist and Rubio); Associated Press (Crist and special friend).

Comments () | Archives (5)

The comments to this entry are closed.

If you're not alarmed by the direction the lunatic fringe of American politics is headed, you're not paying attention. For eight years, while George W. Bush drove our economy into the ditch, these knuckleheads were silent. The moment a black guy became president they exploded in rage - but I'm sure that is just a coincidence.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

The L.A. Times has the worst comment section on the entire Internet, and it is costing you big money. Go check out the yahoo comments section. That could be your advertising revenue. But no, you make people wait hours to see there comments, if you post them at all. No wonder everytime I look at a LA Times story it has zero comments. And you wonder why the newspaper industry is going down the toilet. Wake up guys. No go ahead, don't post my comment.

(AM responds: If this was a newspaper, there wouldn't be any comments for days, in the form of letters to the editor. These a comments are free to you and I don't see any ads in them. So they're not big moneymakers around here. Thanks for taking the time to leave yours like thousands of others. Great to have so many folks here, even unhappy Ricks)

Not sure which polls you are refering to but the most recent Quinnipiac poll actually have Crist winning in a three way race, not finishing third. Big difference!!!!!!

Crist supports the muslim Obama. Hussien is not American, but was born and raised in Kenya. His father was a card carrying communist. Perhaps Crist and his liberal buddies can answer these FACTS!

To Summarize:
During Obama’s failed Presidency (The record of the Obama years in office:)
-Worst Terrorist attack in American History (Xmas day Detroit bomber) CPAC -> Dick Cheney
-Implementing Communist Economic Policies -> Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Fox News
-Muslim, born in Kenya -> Lou Dobbs, CNN, MSNBC
-Nominated a ultra liberal Latina to the Supreme Court to destroy the Constitution -> Senator Orrin Hatch
-Anti Family, against the sanctity of Marriage, pro gay -> Senator Vitter, Sneator Ensign
-Obama added more National debt added than any previous President including Bush’s 8 years -> K. Rove
-Stimulus Bill to fight Obama created Recession and not 1 job created -> Senator Brown
-Bailing out lazy, shiftless Detroit autoworkers -> Bill Kristol, Gov Sarah Palin
-Islamic jihad sympathizers part of White House administration -> Congressman John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh, Lez Cheney
-Asking GOP Chairman Steele to meet him at LA Sex club
-Money to pay people to be unemployed -> Senator Bunning
-Penalizing hard working Wall Street Bankers -> Gov. Mitt Romney
-Attacking poor, hapless Japanese managers at Toyota for the sloppy work of their american workers -> Senator Shelby

Now a failed HealthCare Summit!
So we have ObamaCare with it’s Medical Death Panels and big jumps in our health care premiums, promiscuous ho's allowed to kill their unborn babies, and a Government takeover of Medicare?

It is clear that Hussien needs to be removed by the Military and then the Supreme Court can appoint Jeb Bush President (circa 2000). Jeb is a family values guy, so we expect him to make Mary Cheney his VP, where she will fight to keep the Gays out of the Military!

By the way, Bunning & GOP are RIGHT! No more Wasteful money spent on lazy, stupid workers. My GrandPapa used to tell this rubbish “Get a Job BUM!”, when they would ask for money outside of his Factory back in the ‘30s.

Contact your Congressman, do not allow the Bush Tax Cuts for the Wealthy to expire, it’s that important! Even if your homeless or lost your home, buck up and borrow a cell from someone to make this important call!

I would like to see more interesting and positive stories about Florida.

The political situation in Florida is depressing.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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