Bush, Rubio Rally GOP: ‘Remember When Florida Had a Republican Governor?’
Jeb Bush and Republican U.S. Senate contender Marco Rubio campaigned together for the first time Friday night, with the former governor urging supporters at a crowded GOP fund-raiser to return to their “foundational beliefs.”
Bush drew standing ovations at the Pasco County Ronald Reagan dinner and lavished praise on Rubio, who he formally endorsed earlier this week in a move given added loft by rival Charlie Crist’s earlier decision to break with the Republican Party and continue his Senate campaign as an independent.
“Support candidates who are conservative,” Bush told more than 600 Republicans gathered at the Saddlebrook Resort. “But support the bold, courageous ones even more.”
Crist’s name wasn’t mentioned by Bush or Rubio. But after a week in which state party leaders blistered the governor and even sought to auction off his portrait on eBay, Crist was maligned by implication.
“It was so great when Florida had a Republican governor. Remember those days?” Rubio said, drawing laughter from the crowd with the dig at Crist.
In his 25-minute speech, Bush also got a few nuanced shots in at the governor – especially over his veto of legislation abolishing teacher tenure, a measure heavily supported by most Republican leaders, including Senate sponsor John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who doubles as state GOP chairman. Crist’s veto came following a heavy phone- and E-mail campaign opposing the bill and organized, in part, by the state’s largest teachers’ union.
Bush, whose 2002 Democratic opponent, Bill McBride, was heavily financed by that same union, derided politicians who make decisions based on public opinion and polls, saying, “It’s easy to stick your finger in the wind,” before making policy decisions. Bush described the veto as “one of the great disappointments.”
In another barely concealed shot, Bush praised Thrasher for helping steady the Republican Party following the lavish spending that marked the tenure of ousted chairman Jim Greer, Crist’s hand-picked leader. The state party’s woes returned to the spotlight Friday with the release of hundreds of pages of American Express credit-card statements reflecting $7 million in often-extravagant spending over the past three years with Greer at the helm.
Bush said Thrasher was brought in to “clean-up the sordid mess that was a huge embarrassment.”
Also speaking at the event were several other Republican candidates running statewide – including gubernatorial frontrunner Bill McCollum, the state’s attorney general, and Chief Financial Officer candidate Jeff Atwater, the Senate president from North Palm Beach. But the evening’s most riveting tandem was Bush and Rubio, whose speeches echoed each other and pivoted on a call for a return to what they called the party’s conservative principles, smaller government, tax cuts and government deregulation to promote business growth.
“This election is about choosing the right road,” Rubio said.
For Rubio, the night also held a certain poignancy.
It was in Pasco County 11 months ago that Rubio won his first straw poll contest over Crist, who at that time held a 30-point lead in Senate race polls and had just been endorsed by Republican Senate leadership in Washington, along with gaining the embrace of Florida’s top Republicans.
The Pasco poll was the first in a series of straw poll victories last summer and fall that eventually helped give Rubio’s campaign a level of credibility and national attention from the burgeoning Tea Party wing of the GOP. Now Rubio is propelled as the presumptive Republican nominee and it’s Crist who is running the maverick race.
Polls, though, still show Crist with a narrow lead over both Rubio and Democratic rival Kendrick Meek, a Miami congressman.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a Crist supporter who said he skipped the Reagan event in his home county because of two prior commitments, said Friday’s dinner was not emblematic of the state’s electorate.
“You had people coming here from all over Tampa Bay to see Jeb Bush,” said Fasano. “I love (Bush) and I love Charlie Crist. But this is a hardcore Republican crowd. You’re going to find people who support Charlie Crist elsewhere.”
Fasano said he wouldn’t break with Crist – despite the rising ferocity within his own party. “You support your friends,” Fasano said. “Loyalty is second to none, especially in politics.”
But the bitterness toward Crist was evident among many of those at the event. “He couldn’t get elected dog-catcher in my county,” Betty Ramey, the Gilchrist County state committeewoman, said of Crist.
By contrast, the crowd seemed captivated by Bush, who urged Republicans to advance campaign themes this election year that emphasized “entrepreneurial capitalism,” a “zeal for reform,” “bedrock principles,” and a drive to “restore personal responsibility.”
Bush accused President Barack Obama of advocating a redistribution of the wealth in the U.S., while also causing an “avalanche” of government spending. He said the nation’s deficit and rising debt would either force world financial markets to decide the nation’s future, or voters could take action this fall.
“Better to take back our country by restoring conservative principles,” Bush said.