Crist, Rubio Draw Contrasts as Senate Polls Tighten
As polls this week showed their race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination closing to a statistical tie, Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio took a series of thinly-veiled shots at each other Wednesday during separate speeches to newspaper reporters and editors from across the state.
Speaking first, Crist jabbed Rubio on his hectic campaign schedule, which some political observers credit with helping close earlier wide polling and fundraising gaps. In Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University’s latest poll, Rubio went from 30 points down in August to a statistical tie. He also came within a quarter of a million dollars of Crist’s fundraising in the fourth quarter of 2009.
But Crist said he has not been able to fully engage in the race because of his day job.
"I don't have the luxury of going around this state and politicking all day, nor do I have the desire to do it right now," Crist said during a speech to the Associated Press annual Legislative Planning Day at the Capitol. "I'm going to do my job. I am the governor of Florida, and I am going to fight for the people every day."
And as he said when questions arose last fall about focusing so heavily on out-of-state fundraising, Crist said he was following advice he was given by the last Florida governor to be elected senator.
"I can do it on weekends," he said. "That was the advice Bob Graham gave me and I'm going to heed it. What you’re going to see is this governor work as hard as I possibly can to honor the oath that I took when I got sworn-in as governor…to work every single day for the people of this state, to fight for them, to fight for their jobs.”
Crist ruled out an idea that has been floated by some observers since Rubio has gained momentum: running as an indpendent should he lose the primary a la Connecticut U.S. Joe Lieberman, who left the Democratic Party after losing its primary in 2006, but was re-elected.
Asked, “could you win as an independent,” Crist replied “We'll never know.”
Taking his turn to speak to the assembly of reporters and editors, Rubio framed the race as a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and of the nation, as he has throughout the conversation. Rubio assailed the Democratic leadership in Washington and said Gov. Crist enabled them to lead the country astray by supporting the federal economic stimulus package.
“I believe if you can hold the growth of government spending constant and couple that with significant reforms to your tax code to provide certainty and a lower rate, you will see the growth in our economy. And that growth in our economy will make government spending a lower percentage of our economy,” Rubio said. “I’m running for the United States Senate because I’m the only candidate in this race who has my view of these things and I certainly believe I’m the only candidate in this race that will go to Washington, D.C., stand up this agenda and offer an alternative.”
Though he has hammered Gov. Crist for supporting the stimulus package, Rubio said it was not hypocritical for him to subsequently say that he would have accepted the federal dollars if he had been governor, as he did last fall.
“I believe that’s a false choice,” Rubio said. “Back last February, this country was having a debate…(about) how do we restart the American economy. At that moment, Gov. Crist, I believe not really fully-informed of what that plan did, decided to endorse it. And I think that was a mistake. I believe the stimulus has been a failure. It has not stimulated job creation in America, in fact unemployment continues to climb here in Florida, but we now owe what we know to be $800 billion according to the latest figures.”
Rubio said Crist’s support of the stimulus – he became one of the few high-profile Republicans to come out in favor of the plan before it was approved by Congress – hurt congressional GOP efforts to rebut President Barack Obama’s push for it. Rubio said there were Republican alternative ideas, mostly involving tax cuts, that would have been better stimulants.
“The choice was not between the stimulus package and nothing,” he said. “My criticism is when Charlie Crist lined up in favor of the stimulus package, he cut the legs out from those Republicans who were working to advocate for an alternative that I believe would have been better for America.”