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Club For Growth Backs Rubio, Unfazed By NY-23 Fallout

With the endorsement today of Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate race, the Club For Growth sends a message that it is not deterred by a defeat last week of its preferred candidate in the New York 23 race.

"We have no hesitation at all," Club for Growth (CFG) president Chris Chocola told RCP today. "The Hoffman race was certainly a disappointment. We would have rather won than lost. But we look for champions of economic freedom wherever they might be."

Chocola, a former Indiana Congressman, disputed the idea that the New York special election was a feud within the Republican Party, arguing that Dede Scozzafava "was never a real Republican." The real lesson from the result, Chocola said, was that the electorate "is very energized," as shown by Hoffman getting 48% of the vote and nearly winning as a third party candidate.

"We believe that the center of the electorate is essentially for limited government and tolerant on social issues," Chocola said. "If you run unapologetically as a fiscal conservative, and you reflect your district on social issues, I think you'll win a lot more times than you're going to lose."

The endorsement of Rubio, which was not unexpected, is the second in a Senate race by Club For Growth in the 2010 cycle. Its early support for former CFG President Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania preceded Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties. And it comes as Gov. Charlie Crist (R) faces renewed criticism in the Florida Republican Senate primary over his support for the Obama administration's Recovery Act.

Last week the CFG launched an ad built around a clip of Crist's appearance with President Obama at a town hall meeting in the Sunshine State last winter. The organization has been monitoring this race for some time, but held back on an endorsement until Rubio's campaign showed improvement in his fundraising.


"We've liked the candidate all along, but we take our endorsement process very seriously and part of it is making sure the candidate [is viable]," Chocola said. "We never shy away from underdogs or even long-shots. But we think Rubio is in a great spot, where we can recommend him to our members with full confidence that he's going to run a great campaign and he's got a good chance of winning."

Rubio, Chocola said, is a "very appealing candidate" who offers a stark contrast in the race. "Clearly one is a champion of economic freedom and one is not," he said, pointing not just to Crist's support for the stimulus bill, but also concerns over his position on cap-and-trade and taxes.

Chocola said the Club for Growth will likely continue independent expenditures as the race continues, and will be raising money to fund those efforts. The group reportedly spent $1 million on last week's special election in NY-23.

The Crist campaign responded to today's news by attempting to turn the tables on Rubio.

"While Marco Rubio has a record of raising taxes and spending exorbitantly, Charlie Crist is a true fiscal conservative and looks forward to working with Club for Growth on their shared goals as Florida's next US Senator," Crist communications director Andrea Saul said in a statement.

Crist, once seen as the clear frontrunner in the open-seat race, has seen his approval rating dip recently. In an interview this weekend, he chalked that up to continuing unease with the economy.

"When you're in times like [this], sometimes there's a desire to blame somebody," he said. "Some people are just unhappy. I wish they were happier. I'm working hard every day to make sure that they have a better future and a brighter economy."