Crist Visits Home Town, Slams Rubio
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03/08/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Ultra-conservative South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint praised U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio at Saturday’s Lincoln Day dinner in Tampa. In St. Petersburg earlier that day, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s vying for the same seat, had less kind words to say about the former state house speaker.

Many Florida voters were looking forward to a face-off between the two GOP candidates on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday. Rubio declined to appear opposite the governor. His campaign claimed he was obligated to debate Crist on FOX News first before making any other stops on the talk circuit. On Saturday, WMNF asked Crist what he thought of the move.

I can’t believe it. I mean, you know, my opponent’s the guy who says he’s going to stand up to President Barack Obama, yet he’s not willing to sit down with David Gregory on “Meet the Press” and debate me. I mean, it’s hypocritical. What else can I tell you?

Rubio, whom Crist faces in the August GOP primary, has gotten national press for his unabashed support of so-called “tea party” values. Crist said Saturday that Rubio’s criticism of federal spending is disingenuous, as evidenced by a pricey haircut he charged to a GOP credit card. Crist, who brought his barber along to illustrate his point, said voters are starting to recognize this.

Oh, I think they realize that it’s all a façade, you know—that you say one thing, yet you do another. I mean, you know, since I’ve been governor, we’ve cut the budget by seven billion dollars. I signed the largest tax cut in the history of Florida. When he was speaker of the House, he sent me a budget with almost half a billion dollars of earmarks, that, because the people of Florida, God bless ’em, they gave me this veto pen, I was able to get rid of it. I mean, you want the real deal? You want somebody who lives within their means, and will reduce spending?

In recent weeks, Rubio has beaten the governor, who in this race is painted as a moderate, in some polls by nearly 20 points. But with the primary months out, it is still anyone’s game. In response to Rubio calling the Crist campaign’s focus on the former speaker’s spending an act of desperation, Crist said, “Welcome to the NFL.” On Saturday, he explained what he meant by this.

Well, yeah. Well, it had just come out that he had spent all this money on a 130 dollar haircut, and, you know, all these other crazy things. And he kind of was whining about it, and I said, ‘Well, he shouldn’t be upset about it. I mean, this is the big leagues. Welcome to the NFL.’ I mean, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. You know, he’s not running for dogcatcher. We’re running for the United States Senate. It’s important. We’ll be representing the fourth-largest state in America if we win. And, you know, if you’re not ready to mix it up, don’t run.

In recent months, the Crist-Rubio race has gotten national attention. Some, like Crist supporter Scott McIntyre, see it as symbolic of a greater rift within the Republican Party.

*This race is about a fight within the Republican Party between the far right and the moderates in the party. And the far right wants to drive out all moderates in the party. They are no longer interested in conciliation. They are interested in driving all moderates, and all people of mild minds, out. And it essentially is a fight between good and evil.

Crist and Rubio are scheduled to debate on Fox News on the 28th of this month, almost five months ahead of the primary, which happens Aug. 24. The winner will likely face Democratic U.S. Congress member Kendrick Meek in the general election in November.

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