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Marco Rubio Crushing Charlie Crist Among Florida GOP Grassroots


{Originally posted at my blog Senate Guru.}

The most telling polling item I have seen in 2009 regarding the 2010 Republican Senate primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio is the following tidbit from a late-June Mason-Dixon poll:

Among Republican voters who recognize both candidates, 33 percent back Crist and 31 percent back Rubio.

Crist has been acknowledged to have near-universal name recognition among Floridians, while Rubio is working to introduce himself to many voters - even many Republicans - for the first time. However, among Republicans who know both men, we have a statistical dead heat. This bodes well for Rubio, indicating that, as he increases his name ID, he will continue to sap support from Crist and even things up.

Consider who would know both men best: the Republican grassroots of Florida, the activists who work to get these men elected. Among these activists, these voters most in-the-know, Rubio actually crushes Charlie Crist. The rundown so far:

Pasco County, June 2009:

[Rubio] won a straw poll, 73-9, at a meeting of the Pasco County Republican Party, which backed Crist in a rare primary endorsement in 2006.

Lee County, July 2009:

Last weekend the Lee County Republican executive committee held an informal "straw poll," and Rubio beat Crist by a 7-to-1 margin, similar to a recent Pasco GOP straw poll.

Highlands County, July 2009:

If Republican Executive Committees decided statewide primary elections, Charlie Crist's senate campaign would be in big trouble. The Pasco and Lee county RECs have held informal straw polls lately, where Marco Rubio blew away Crist among the party faithful. Last night, the Highlands GOP held their own vote that produced 75 votes for Rubio and one for Crist.

Bay County, August 2009:

Rubio got 23 votes; Gov. Charlie Crist received two votes, and two members voted for none of the above. Despite having the formal endorsement of the Republican Party of Florida, Crist has not faired well in REC straw polls statewide, a possible indication that he has not won over the party faithful.

Volusia County, August 2009:

Volusia County's Republican Executive Committee voted this month for a motion to censure Crist for bucking the GOP on issues varying from the stimulus to judicial appointments to his choice for a Southeast Volusia Hospital District Board vacancy.

Palm Beach County, August 2009:

A motion to censure Gov. Charlie Crist for bucking the GOP on a variety of issues failed tonight on a 65-to-65 vote at a Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee meeting, our Jennifer Sorentrue reports.

Broward County, August 2009:

Leaders of the Broward Republican Party blocked, at least temporarily, a move Monday night to have an internal party straw poll between the party's candidates for U.S. Senate.

The effort was pushed by supporters of former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is competing with Gov. Charlie Crist for the nomination, and resulted in the most raucous Republican Party gathering in years.

The discussion was marked by shouting and angry words between Chairman Chip LaMarca and Rubio fans that wanted a straw poll.

Broward Republicans have been big supporters of Crist's, and Rubio supporters figured that conservative dissatisfaction with the moderate Republican governor might give their candidate a chance to embarrass the governor by besting him in a poll of Republican committeemen and committeewomen.

LaMarca opposed the effort, arguing it would be tantamount to an endorsement from the county party, which he said would be divisive.

LaMarca was deeply involved in the Broward Republican Party's endorsement of Crist over Tom Gallagher in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. LaMarca was the one who made the motion to endorse Crist.

This has been Charlie Crist's summer, getting crushed by Rubio time and time again and facing rebuke after rebuke by Republicans at the local level. To recap:

Pasco County: Rubio wins, 73-9
Lee County: Rubio wins, "7-to-1 margin"
Highlands County: Rubio wins, 75-1
Bay County: Rubio wins, 23-2
Volusia County: GOP Committee censures Crist
Palm Beach County: GOP Committee almost censures Crist as motion fails on a 65-65 tie, still a stinging rebuke
Broward County: GOP Committee attempts a straw poll, blocked only by Crist acolyte eager to avoid embarrassment for Crist

Overwhelmingly, Republican Party activists in Florida prefer Marco Rubio to Charlie Crist, with disapproval for Crist and his policies being so strong that motions to censure Crist either succeed or only narrowly fail by the smallest of margins. These are the voters that know both Crist and Rubio best. Do you wonder why the Rubio camp is able to proceed with optimism in the face of statewide polls giving Crist a clear advantage?

The only question is whether or not the Rubio camp's organization will be effective enough to translate this clear-cut support (and broad discontent with Crist) into a sufficiently strong grassroots army to counter Crist's fundraising advantage and Washington D.C. establishment support. If Rubio does (and I think he can), a major upset may be in the works.