Con­ser­va­tive Ru­bio ties Florida Gov. Crist in Se­nate poll

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

Gov. Charles Crist and his con­ser­va­tive chal­lenger Marco Ru­bio are now dead even in the Florida Repub­li­can pri­mary race for the U.S. Se­nate that has turned into a ma­jor bat­tle­ground be­tween the party es­tab­lish­ment and the in­sur­gent “tea party” move­ment’s bid to take con­trol of the Repub­li­can Party.

Mr. Ru­bio, the for­mer state House speaker, had been trail­ing in the polls un­til re­cently, but a Ras­mussen sur­vey re­leased Dec. 16 showed that his once-un­der­dog cam­paign is draw­ing in­creased sup­port from the Repub­li­can Party con­ser­va­tive base, while Mr. Crist has lost some sup­port. The tele­phone sur­vey of likely Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers now shows each of them draw­ing 43 per­cent of the vote, with 5 per­cent pre­fer­ring an­other can­di­date and 9 per­cent un­de­cided.

Just hours af­ter the new Ras­mussen poll num­bers came out, the con­ser­va­tive Club for Growth, which has en­dorsed Mr. Ru­bio, an­nounced that it has raised more than $100,000 for his cam­paign “in a lit­tle over a month.”

The new polling num­bers rep­re­sent a dra­matic change in the con­test, since Mr. Crist was all but en­dorsed by the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee as the party’s hand-picked can­di­date ear­lier this year, promis­ing money and other po­lit­i­cal sup­port to keep the open seat in the Repub­li­can col­umn.

But a steady bar­rage of Ru­bio cam­paign at­tacks on the pop­u­lar gov­er­nor through­out the fall — charg­ing that he has raised taxes and en­dorsed Pres­i­dent Obama’s nearly $800 bil­lion eco­nomic spending stim­u­lus plan — threw the Crist cam­paign on the de­fen­sive and drove his sup­port down from 53 per­cent in Au­gust to 49 per­cent in Oc­to­ber.

“The fact that Crist has fallen be­low 50 per­cent in a pri­mary against a lesser known op­po­nent sug­gests po­ten­tial vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” Ras­mussen said at the time.

Mr. Ru­bio’s polls have since risen from 31 per­cent in Au­gust to 43 this week, and he is now viewed “very fa­vor­ably” by 34 per­cent of likely pri­mary vot­ers, up from 18 per­cent who said that in Au­gust. Mr. Crist, on the other hand, has seen his “very fa­vor­able” rat­ings drop to 19 per­cent, Ras­mussen said.

Tea party ac­tivists who packed con­gres­sional town-hall meet­ings in Au­gust to protest the Democrats’ health care plan and held a mas­sive rally at the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton on Sept. 12 have been ma­jor sup­port­ers of the Ru­bio cam­paign, and their role is seen by tea party co­or­di­na­tors as a ma­jor test of their move­ment’s ef­fec­tive­ness.

“While our cam­paign’s grow­ing mo­men­tum and progress is en­cour­ag­ing, I rec­og­nize we still have a lot of work and a long road ahead as an un­der­dog run­ning against a sit­ting gov­er­nor,” Mr. Ru­bio said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day. “I also be­lieve vot­ers are start­ing to re­al­ize that there are vast dif­fer­ences be­tween me and Char­lie Crist on a num­ber of im­por­tant is­sues.”

The Crist cam­paign ex­pressed doubts about the Ras­mussen polling num­bers and con­fi­dence that their can­di­date will be vic­to­ri­ous in the end.

“Polls at this point in the race are as fluid as Marco Ru­bio’s pol­icy po­si­tions on ev­ery­thing from cap and trade to tax in­creases. The only one that counts is on elec­tion day, and we’re con­fi­dent it will en­sure Char­lie Crist is the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for the U.S. Se­nate,” said Crist cam­paign spokes­woman An­drea Saul.

Real Clear Pol­i­tics, the cam­paign Web site that tracks the candidates, showed Mr. Crist lead­ing over­all among the polls in the past few months, with a cu­mu­la­tive av­er­age lead of 8.4 per­cent­age points over his ri­val, but some elec­tion hand­i­cap­pers Dec. 16 were re­luc­tant to reach any con­clu­sions about Ras­mussen’s lat­est find­ings.

“I’d re­ally like to see more polling be­fore the race is de­clared a dead heat. Crist has only just started to en­gage Ru­bio and this will be the test of how deep and com­mit­ted Ru­bio’s sup­port re­ally is,” said Jen­nifer Duffy, se­nior elec­tions an­a­lyst at the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

A Ras­mussen sur vey re­leased Dec. 16 shows a dead heat be­tween for­mer Florida House Speaker Marco Ru­bio (left) and Gov. Charles Crist in the Repub­li­can pri­mar y bat­tle for the state’s open U.S. Se­nate seat. Mr. Ru­bio has over­come a 22-point deficit since Au­gust with the sup­por t of “tea par ty” conser va­tive ac­tivists.

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