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« Democrats' Talking Points On Health Care | Blog Home Page | The Week Ahead: Snowy Capital, Chilly Partisanship »

Florida Is A Race To Watch

Marco Rubio, the conservative darling in the open Florida Senate race, finished last week on rocky ground for the first time in the campaign, after admitting he would have accepted the same stimulus money he's been attacking his GOP primary opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist, for taking. The stumble was a brief one. By Tuesday, Mr. Rubio was basking in a new Rasmussen poll of likely Republican primary voters that found him tied with Mr. Crist at 43% apiece. As recently as August, Mr. Crist led by 22 points. Mr. Rubio's favorable rating was also higher than Mr. Crist's and his unfavorable rating lower.

More good headlines came a day later with a Rasmussen poll of general election voters. It found that, in matchups against the putative Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, a congressman from Miami, Mr. Rubio led the Democrat by 49% to 35%, while Mr. Crist led Mr. Meek by a slimmer margin of only 42%-36%.

One reason the national party backed Mr. Crist from the start was his fundraising ability. However, Mr. Rubio's campaign is now fielding donations from its own national network. Club for Growth, an anti-tax group, announced Wednesday it had bundled $100,000 in a month for the upstart conservative. Florida's August primary remains a long way off and Mr. Rubio will need a lot more money to keep up with Mr. Crist, who had more than $6 million by the end of September. But Mr. Rubio's name-recognition is climbing quickly, eliminating the edge that the GOP establishment once assumed was Mr. Crist's birthright.

Mr. Crist was endorsed by the national party just minutes after announcing his candidacy in May, despite the fact that Mr. Rubio was already in the race. That move by the National Republican Senatorial Committee angered many rank-and-file conservatives, who are also upset at similar action by the national party in Senate races in California and Kentucky. The Florida race is rapidly shaping up as a classic confrontation of the establishment moderate versus the grassroots-backed conservative, with sizeable implications for the GOP as it goes toward the 2012 presidential race.