Why Marco Rubio Could Beat Charlie Crist

Gov. Charlie Crist is the most popular politician in Florida. The Republican appears increasingly intent on running for the state's open U.S. Senate ...
by | April 22, 2009
 

Rubio Gov. Charlie Crist is the most popular politician in Florida. The Republican appears increasingly intent on running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat in 2010, instead of running for reelection that year. If he does, he'll be a strong favorite to win.

But, no one seems to have told that to Marco Rubio. Rubio, a Cuban-American, is the 37-year-old former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. The Republican looks like he is going to run for Senate (he has an exploratory committee) and he says that he won't defer to Crist.

Why would a young politician with a promising future choose to challenge his state's (and his party's) leading political figure?

Well, in politics ambition never requires an explanation, but in this case there's actually a couple of good ones.

One is that Crist and Rubio have a history. The two clashed repeatedly when Rubio served as speaker from 2006-2008.

As Crist touted a ballot measure to reduce property taxes, Rubio argued that it didn't go far enough. When Crist negotiated a deal with an Indian tribe to expand gambling, Rubio took the governor to court to stop him. As Crist became a leading Republican proponent of a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gas emissions, Rubio opposed him.

And that gets to the second reason for a Rubio candidacy against Crist: The former speaker would have a chance to win. Crist is popular with the general public. But, in a potentially low-turnout primary that likely will be dominated by conservatives, Rubio would have a chance.

Besides running as the true low-tax candidate and the opponent of gambling and cap-and-trade (all good positions in a Republican primary), Rubio would be able to criticize Crist for supporting President Obama's economic stimulus package and, perhaps soon, for opposing a change in voting laws pushed by Republicans.

Crist will be the more moderate candidate in the primary, which often is a challenging position. Jeb Bush more-or-less dubbed Rubio his ideological successor, so Jeb's former supporters may rally to his cause.

None of this will matter, of course, if Crist raises so much more money than Rubio that the former speaker can't get his message out. Plus, despite departing from conservative orthodoxy with some regularity, Crist has been able to stay popular with Republicans so far.

So, clearly, Crist would be a favorite to beat Rubio. The odds against him, though, probably won't be quite overwhelming enough to scare Rubio out of an underdog campaign.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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