Tea partiers swoon over Rubio in St. Pete listen10/08/10 Kate Bradshaw
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With less than four weeks to go until the November election, one statewide race continues to captivate Florida politicos. The contest for Floridaâ€™s open US Senate seat has had some funky twists and turns. Now itâ€™s in the home stretch, and a new poll shows Republican Marco Rubio with 50% of the votes. Rubio was in town today surrounded by a mob of adoring supporters
Perhaps â€œcultâ€ is too strong a word, but â€œfollowingâ€ is an understatement. These are die-hard fans. They crowd into Fergâ€™s, a watering hole and St. Pete mainstay thatâ€™s stumbling distance from the Trop. Theyâ€™re all sporting their gear â€“ t-shirts, hats, placards, you name it. But itâ€™s not baseball that brings these people, most of whom are over fifty and white, to Fergâ€™s on a Friday morning.
Upon Rubio's arrival, restaurant staff switches every TV in the bar to FOX News. When President Obama is shown speaking on a big screen behind where Rubio is giving an informal speech, it is promptly switched off. Rubio swears heâ€™s running on the issues.
While his supposed grassroots campaign appeals to disenchanted Republicans and independents, his $5 million war chest is largely fortified by corporate dollars. Another way the Rubio campaign has benefited from big money traces its roots back to the Supreme Courtâ€™s controversial Citizens United decision last January. Now, nonprofits and unions can use unlimited amounts of corporate money to fund campaign ads. Karl Roveâ€™s group has pumped one million dollars into helping Rubio. Still, people like Dianne Kerry of Treasure Island thinks electing candidates like Rubio will mean more jobs. She says she against letting tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans sunset at the end of the year.
Rubio has been criticized for his environmental stance. Even as millions of gallons of oil spewed from the gulf floor daily this past summer, Rubio maintained that he was open to offshore oil drilling. He has also been a fervent denier of humanityâ€™s role in global climate change. When the Sierra Club announced yesterday it would endorse both Crist and Meek, the latter said no thanks. Meek said it was weak of the environmental nonprofit to endorse Crist, an independent who hasnâ€™t always erred on the side of green. The dual endorsement doesnâ€™t faze Rubio.
U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek said he couldnâ€™t accept an endorsement from an organization that would back Crist, who has supported offshore drilling and been pro-development. A spokesperson for Marco Rubio told the Tampa Tribune that the Sierra Clubâ€™s apparent â€œanyone-but-Rubioâ€ stance is something the campaign sees as a badge of honor. WMNF asked Rubio to elaborate on this.
While most of the supporters appeared beyond retirement age, there were maybe four or five people under thirty at the event â€“ not counting press or campaign staff. One of these was Eckerd College student Tom Battey, a member of the College Republicans whoâ€™s majoring in marine science. He says Rubioâ€™s attitude toward the environment doesnâ€™t bother him.
An article in todayâ€™s Wall Street Journal indicated that Florida Republicans are afraid that Kendrick Meek might drop out of the race and endorse Crist. Rubio says if this is true, it definitely didnâ€™t show during the latest debate.
The race has seventeen candidates â€“ a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, a Constitution Party candidate, six non-party affiliated candidates, and seven write-ins. One of the independents is Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who left the Republican Party in late April. Cristâ€™s campaign has intermittently stressed centrism and attack ads. Rubio is traversing the Sunshine State in a black bus. The campaign is calling it the Road to Reclaim America Tour. The three-day tour concludes tomorrow in Miami.