Marco Rubio made a major splash in Jacksonville Beach last Wednesday, while Governor Charlie Crist’s events in Jacksonville on Friday reportedly lacked the kind of energy and attendance you might expect of a sitting Governor campaigning for U.S. Senate.
And based on two recent polls, Mr. Rubio has a lot to smile about.
I was able to attend Wednesday’s Rubio event, while my schedule prevented me from attending Crist’s. So I can only tell you what I saw firsthand at the South Beach Community Center in Jacksonville Beach.
The Wednesday crowd, estimated by some to be as high as 350, packed the meeting room to hear Marco Rubio speak. Many folks I talked with after the event said it was the first opportunity they’d had to hear him in person, and that was the case for me as well. Mr. Rubio seemed to understand that, and the speech was very much one of introduction. He talked about why he chose to run for the U.S. Senate, and what are his core values. He took a couple of swipes at Governor Crist along the way, but only in the sense that focusing on expensive haircuts and alleged back-waxes are the sign of a campaign that’s struggling, and that’s a plausible assessment.
In the question and answer period, Mr. Rubio finally got into some specifics. Rubio said he favored the Fair Tax, but thinks it’s probably not realistic to think that it could be enacted, as it would require the total disbandment of the IRS … a notion that seemed very attractive to many of those in attendance. He said rather that he hopes that a “fairer, flatter” income tax could be worked out, so that the average taxpayer could fill out a return “on a postcard.”
He also said he favored legal immigration, but that illegal immigrants should not receive any special treatment, again, a popular theme for those in the room.
But it was the energy of the campaign stop that seemed to be telling. Two recent polls show Former Speaker Rubio now leading Governor Crist by as many as 30 points, which represents a 60 point swing in the race from a year ago. The poll numbers, and a cheering crowd in an admittedly conservative area of the state, are likely very uplifting for Rubio, who is positioning himself to the right of Crist.
The Governor’s events were, by most reports, not as well attended. Governor Crist’s flight to Jacksonville was delayed by weather, making him late to his first appearance at Bono’s on Norwood Avenue, and his town hall meeting with Representative Lake Ray reportedly had a lot of empty chairs.
A lot is made of momentum in a political campaign, and right now, it has all swung to Marco Rubio. The media has taken notice, and there are an increasing number of stories about GOP credit cards and other starting to appear. One has to hope that the election will not turn on issues like haircuts and back waxes. At a time when Florida needs thoughtful, intelligent representation in Washington, the debate should be about jobs, the federal deficit, taxes, and did I mention jobs?
Of course, many of us say that about every election, and we’re so often disappointed.
The Rubio campaign does have some questions to answer. If they are handled in a straightforward manner, he has a chance of putting those issues astern before the campaign runs its course. The five months between now and the primary election are both a lifetime and the blink of an eye, and while Rubio has the momentum now, as they say in the investment business, past performance is no guarantee of future results.