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Baxley Backs Rubio

Former state Rep. Dennis Baxley has left his leadership role with the Christian Coalition of Florida but plans to bring an evangelical zeal to his next mission: Beating Gov. Charlie Crist.

Baxley told the News Service of Florida on Wednesday that helping former House Speaker Marco Rubio defeat the governor in next year's Republican primary is, "My top priority for the next 16 months."

Baxley played a lesser role supporting Crist opponent Tom Gallagher in the 2006 GOP primary for governor. But Baxley wasn't able to stop Crist from thrashing Gallagher, who at the time was a recent convert to the party's right wing. Baxley acknowledged that Rubio is little known and that Crist has voter-approval ratings that hover around 70 percent. But in a Republican primary, the pool of voters is much narrower and includes a well of party activists who lean more to the right than Crist on issues which include his support for the Obama administration and Democratic Congress' economic stimulus package.

"Gov. Crist is very popular," the former Ocala lawmaker conceded. "But that's what you get when you're on both sides of every issue. But as a party, we need to show that we can advance people with real leadership skills."

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