- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

Marco Rubio, who is challenging Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican Party’s nomination for Senate, said Wednesday that if the vote were held today, he would lose because he remains largely unknown to most Republican voters.

But the state’s former House speaker, who is the conservative underdog in a contest that will be decided in a party primary next year, has hit the campaign trail early, and he expects to rally voters with his message of smaller government, a flat tax and a stronger defense posture.

“I know that what I stand for is something the majority of Florida Republicans can identify with, and that’s why I’m confident that a year from now you will be looking at a very different race,” Mr. Rubio said after an appearance on The Washington Times’ radio program “America’s Morning News.”

Right now, though, Mr. Rubio, 38, is running behind Mr. Crist in several head-to-head polls, including a June 2 Quinnipiac University survey that had the governor leading by 54 percent to 23 percent in the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez.

Mr. Rubio, however, says his numbers will change when voters hear his double-barreled political message that includes a stinging indictment of Mr. Crist and of President Obama’s big-spending government, which he says has put the country “on a path to leave our children with record deficits, record debt, record spending, entitlement programs run amok and a weakened America across the world.”

“The Republican Party is supposed to be the movement in America that works against these things,” said the son of Cuban immigrants, who has had a meteoric career in the state Legislature before being term-limited last year.

His message includes a sharp attack on the $787 billion federal economic-stimulus package, which Mr. Crist embraced early this year, his support for a $1 a pack cigarette-tax increase and his record of appointing “the most liberal members for the state Supreme Court in our state’s history.”

Mr. Rubio points out that Mr. Crist “just didn’t accept the dollars [from the stimulus package], but he actually campagined in favor of it” - adding that “the stimulus package is indicative and illustrative of everything that’s wrong with the federal government today.”

“Ultimately, we are going to have a debate, and this election is going to be a choice between the direction that Charlie Crist wants to take the Republican Party and the direction I want to take the Republican Party,” Mr. Rubio said.

Notably, despite his opposition to administration policies, Mr. Rubio has some kind words about Mr. Obama.

“Obviously, we have different ideologies, but I admire this about him, and that is, you can’t accuse him of being a do-nothing president. This is someone who has come in and proposed big, bold ideas, and that’s something I would like to see done from the conservative side - not from the liberal side.”

Still, despite his criticism of his primary opponent, Mr. Rubio quickly replied “absolutely” when asked whether he would support Mr. Crist if he won the primary. “At the end of the day, no matter who we nominate, he is going to be far superior to who the Democrats are going to offer,” he said.

Meanwhile, polls show that no clear Senate candidate has emerged among Democrats. Among those who have announced their candidacies: Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, state House Minority Leader Dan Gelber and North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that none of the Democratic names drew polling numbers beyond the teens.

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