THE BLOG
05/05/2009 08:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Marco Rubio Jumps Into The Florida Senate Race

I'll bet Ricky Rubio will make a bigger impact on the nation's consciousness over the next few years, but former Florida Republican House Speaker, Marco Rubio, declared his intention to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.

Rubio, a Miami-area lawyer, left the House last year after serving two years as speaker. He is a charismatic public speaker whose conservative message is well-received at Republican events. He has spent the past few months appearing at Republican dinners and other gatherings, including a "tea party" tax protest last month.

He has been critical of the federal stimulus plan and federal bailouts, saying Washington shouldn't be as heavily involved in the economy. He also says the current administration is using taxes to redistribute wealth.

...Rubio believes some Republicans are becoming indistinguishable from Democrats. He did not name Crist specifically. But the governor made some party members uncomfortable when he appeared with Democratic President Barack Obama in support of the $787 billion federal stimulus plan that was opposed by every House Republican and all but three GOP senators.

Gov. Crist is the presumed front-runner but he hasn't declared yet. He's considered a mainstream conservative while Rubio is far to the right and more in step with the obstructionist faction of the Republican Party. The NRSC will probably back Crist against Rubio. He's a slick, light-weight with a pre-packaged Limbaughesque message who has no time for mainstream ideas. Monday he viciously attacked the two Maine Republican senators as stand-ins for Crist-- like them, Crist supported Obama's stimulus package. "If you agree with Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe on some of these issues, you might as well become a Democrat," Rubio hissed.

The national Republican Party, reeling from a string of electoral losses since 2006, is engaged in finger-pointing and soul-searching about its future. Polls show just over one in five adults now identify themselves as Republicans, the lowest level in decades, and the GOP is losing ground with the most important demographic groups for long-term viability-- Hispanic and young voters.

Yet party leaders are nowhere close to consensus on why they're shrinking so fast and what to do about it. With a Crist-Rubio matchup, Florida's Republican Senate primary could be a proxy fight for the party's soul.

"I don't think we have a shrinking movement, we have a shrinking party,'' said Rubio, drawing a distinction between conservatism and the party label. "If the Republican Party is not going to be an effective and authentic alternative to what the Democratic Party is offering, it will continue shrinking."

That's a widely held view among many leading conservatives. But many others hold the view that Republicans will lose still more ground if they insist on ideological purity that turns off the broad middle.

"The Republican Party could well go the way of the Whigs. You don't succeed in politics through subtraction. It's all about addition,'' said Roger Stone of Miami, a Republican consultant who chaired Specter's presidential campaign in 1996.

Stone scoffed at the notion that the path out of the political wilderness is a harder line on conservatism. "You're telling me we lost Hispanic voters because we weren't conservative enough? Or we lost voters between 18 and 35 because we weren't conservative enough? Nonsense. What we need to be is inclusive."

No one is better prepared to take on Rubio than the one progressive Democrat in the race, state Senator Dan Gelber. As minority leader of the Florida House, Dan battled him for years while Rubio sought to implement the disastrous Bush agenda in that hard pressed state. This morning Dan told DWT how he sees Rubio, who, of course, would be a much easier opponent to take on than the popular Crist. "I have a lot of respect for Marco Rubio," said Dan. "He has never broken away from his very conservative principles, even after the course of history has proven many of their ideas to be wrongheaded. The GOP is in the midst of a fight for its basic heart and soul, not to mention its very relevance in the American political discussion, and I know Marco will be a loud and effective voice for those who believe that the direction of the last eight years was the correct one and for the small percentage of Floridians and Americans who believe that a massive shift to the right is the best medicine for America's ails."

Last year, when Dan was still the minority leader and Rubio was still riding roughshod over the Florida House, Dan posted a letter on his blog urging the Speaker to join him in a bipartisan manner in working for a more transparent, open and participatory government in Florida. It's worth reading because it will give you a better idea of the kind of U.S. Senator Dan would make. Rubio, needless to say, never bothered to respond in any substantive way. I also found another letter to Rubio from Dan on Dan's blog from last year, this one about Medicaid "reform," also worth reading to get a better idea of how Dan's mind functions in regard to key policy decisions.

Dan's clueless (and ethicless) Democratic opponent, Kendrick Meek, doesn't know if he thinks Crist is a good governor or a bad governor. "I haven't yet reviewed his work yet," was all he could get out when asked to access a likely rival. Meek himself is in the most Democratic congressional district in Florida but he's anything but a progressive leader. Yesterday Swing State Project released a study of members of Congress who are too conservative for their districts and Meek came out to be the third worst in the entire country! He's the only Florida member of Congress so badly mismatched with his own constituents-- and turns out to be far worse than Blue Dogs like Jim Cooper in Nashville, Jane Harman in L.A. or David Scott in the suburbs east and south of Atlanta.

UPDATE: Dan Gelber Isn't The Only Democrat Welcoming Rubio To The Campaign Trail

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff released the following statement:

"At a time when Florida needs real leadership, Marco Rubio is just following George W. Bush and Republicans in Washington, offering only more of the same stale politics and failed polices.

"In announcing his candidacy, Rubio made it clear that his entire agenda if elected is to just say no - no to President Obama's efforts to jumpstart Florida's economy and create jobs, no to allowing Cuban-Americans to visit their families, and no to any solutions aimed at solving the many problems facing the Sunshine State and our nation.

"While Rubio has recently joined the Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party in just saying no, as the sponsor of the largest sales tax increase in Florida's history, Rubio's recent rhetoric on taxes doesn't fit his record.

"Rubio is the Godfather of Tallahassee's Republican culture of corruption. As disgraced former Speaker Ray Sansom's mentor, Rubio taught Sansom how to personally benefit from bringing home the bacon. After delivering millions of tax dollars for Florida International University, Rubio turned around and got a $69,000 per year part-time job at the school... sound familiar? Unfortunately, that is only the tip of the iceberg to Rubio's ethics problems. As Speaker, Rubio was involved in countless ethics scandals revolving around sweetheart mortgages, legislative favors for big donors, highway contracts, and other shady dealings.

He's certainly expected to muddy Crist up if Crist has the nerve to face him in a primary. How do you say "homo" en español again? One trusted Miami blogger says there are two Rubios-- one who tries to sound relatively sane in English and one who rants like a madman in Spanish. Speaking to Cuban-Americans, he referred to President Obama today as a socialista.