Florida Democrats Pass The Popcorn As Crist And Rubio Work To Make Themselves Unelectable
In their first face-to-face debate, yesterday, hosted by Chris Wallace, Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio tore each other apart for the entertainment of the GOP-TV viewers. Rubio spoke strictly to the fanatical teabaggers who have propelled his candidacy and Crist, the far savvier politician, reached out to all Florida voters. Rubio screeched for the entire debate how people want a senator in Washington who will oppose President Obama, painting himself into a far right extreme corner-- and not in Alabama or Idaho, but in a state that Obama carried 51-48% and where two entrenched Republican congressmen from "safe" districts were booted out by voters. Meanwhile, Crist appealed to sane and rational Floridians by saying he would have been the 4th GOP vote for the stimulus package.
Fox wheeled out Jeb Bush via video to bolster the badly faltering Rubio, who came across as a rookie and someone with something dark and insidious to hide. And Crist kept on attacking Rubio's ethics and the growing perception that he's a lowlife lobbyist and a two-bit slimy crook. Even before yesterday's donnybrook, former Bush aide David Frum warned that Florida Republicans are headed straight for a bloodbath.
The battle in Florida pits Gov. Charlie Crist against former Speaker of the Florida House Marco Rubio. Both men claim to be conservative, pro-life, tax cutters. On the issues, they would seem to agree far more than they disagree.
But on one issue they have disagreed passionately: President Obama's fiscal stimulus. Squeezed by his state's desperate fiscal condition, Crist endorsed and campaigned for the Obama stimulus. Inspired by his conservative ideology, Rubio opposed stimulus... With revenues collapsing in 2008-2009, every Republican governor in the country eventually accepted federal funds. (The two most vociferous objectors-- Alaska's Sarah Palin and South Carolina's Mark Sanford-- were either physically or mentally checking out of their jobs.)
Are all these Republican leaders, including such outstanding figures as Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, now disqualified for future races? But if every governor accepted stimulus dollars, few states were as hard hit by the 2008 economic crisis as Florida. State revenues collapsed by 11.5 percent between 2008 and 2009. Constitutionally obliged to balance the budget, Crist raised fees and cigarette taxes ]-- and still faced a huge budget gap.
...The final Obama plan granted Florida more than $15 billion over three years. That money averted radical cuts to schools and Medicaid. It saved the state from furloughing employees and raising taxes even higher. It has paid for emergency employment on roads and water projects. It has extended unemployment benefits for 700,000 Floridians and put an extra $25 per week in their relief packets.
Marco Rubio has fiercely denounced Crist's support for the Obama stimulus. His campaign ads show images of Crist and Obama side by side and damn the stimulus as "trillions in reckless spending" and a "terrible threat to a fragile economy."
Rubio's last term in the Florida House ended in January 2009, so he did not share responsibility for the state's fiscal crisis. But when asked by reporters what he would have done differently, Rubio has suggested that he would have refused the federal stimulus dollars and instead cut up to $6 billion out of the $65 billion state budget. When asked where precisely he would have found those savings, Rubio demurred: "I don't have the budget in front of me."
These answers have gained Rubio little traction among voters in Florida, where he trails Crist badly in all demographic categories. Rubio even trails Crist by 10 points among Hispanics, despite his Cuban ancestry and fluent Spanish.
But Rubio's message of uncompromising, unremitting opposition to President Obama has won him an enthusiastic following among conservatives nationwide.
And there's plenty of passion and plenty of cash there. Rubio is getting lots of both. Rubio's base is the teabagger string pullers and manipulators, from South Carolina arch obstructionist Jim DeMint, who he says is his model as a senator, to fellow-lobbyist and profiteer wingnut Dick Armey. Immediately after the debate, Rubio propaganda machine cranked up and spit out a victory claim (and fundraising letter):
This morning’s debate was a clear victory for Marco Rubio as he showed why he is the only candidate in this Senate race that can be trusted to go to Washington, stand up to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Meek agenda and offer a clear alternative. On the other hand, because Charlie Crist had no vision, record or conservative principles to promote, he did what politicians do-- distort and attack...
Now it's time to stand with the ONLY conservative in this race we can trust to stand up to the dangerous liberal agenda happening in Washington right now. We need you to stand with Marco today by contributing to his campaign. And share this highlight from the debate with your friends. Tell them why you are supporting Marco.
As a PS they offered a vapid, pro forma quote from DeMint himself: "Like many Republicans across the country, I watched today’s debate with great interest. With every passing day, my support for Marco Rubio grows stronger and more enthusiastic. Today’s debate showed exactly why more and more Republicans are excited by the conservative renewal that’s building in Florida because of Marco’s candidacy.”
This morning's Tampa Tribune covered the debate by pointing out it was "so negative it worried some Republicans about the future of the race and drew a rebuke from state party Chairman John Thrasher."
Crist lodged so many charges against Rubio during the debate that Rubio couldn't answer them all, starting with Crist's first speech in the debate.
"I view public service as a calling, something that you do to try to help other people," he said. "Speaker Rubio views public service as a way to enhance his own personal enrichment."
Crist sought to portray the campaign as being about "trust." He called Rubio untrustworthy, citing newspaper investigations about alleged personal use of Rubio's state party credit card and money raised by independent political committees Rubio set up as state House speaker to help elect Republicans to the House. Crist called that a "$600,000 slush fund."
"Ostensibly, it was supposed to help other candidates," Crist said. "All it helped was Rubio Incorporated. You know, family members got hired, they spent money on the minivan: He got a $135 haircut or whatever it was."
Crist suggested that Rubio was delaying releasing tax returns because he's "doctoring the books."