Florida has a long history of dirty politics.
Take the legend of Sen. George Smathers supposedly declaring in North Florida that Claude Pepper was a "shameless extrovert" with a "thespian" sister. Or the Florida GOP sending mailers calling a legislator "Dr. Date Rape." Or even Mel Martinez's campaign calling Bill McCollum "the new darling of the homosexual extremists."
But this week Charlie Crist broke new ground in attack politics in his U.S. Senate campaign. Marco Rubio, he charged, may be a back waxer.
"He's trying to pawn himself off as a fiscal conservative. And yet just in recent weeks, two weeks ago it has come out in news accounts he had a Republican Party of Florida credit card, that he charged a $130 haircut — or maybe it was a back wax," the governor of America's fourth-largest state told a startled Greta Van Susteren on Fox News on Monday night.
Back wax. Ouch. Surely the specter of high-priced manscaping would tarnish Rubio's hero status among tea party activists.
Rubio's state GOP credit card statements included a $133.75 charge to a Miami barber, and Crist was speculating about what kind of services his Republican rival bought there. (A Times story Sunday mentioned that the barbershop offered a variety of services, from pedicures to waxing.)
Rubio "paid $20 for a haircut with a razor on the neck, and he bought some items that went into a silent auction, including gift certificates," his campaign clarified Tuesday, two weeks after the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald first revealed Rubio's personal charges on the GOP credit card.
"Charlie Crist's obsession with making up things about other people's grooming habits is bizarre for anyone, especially the sitting governor of Florida," said Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos. "It's also a shame he cares more about what's in Marco's personal bills than what's in the stimulus bill he supported."
A March 5-8 poll released Tuesday by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm showed former House Speaker Rubio leading Crist among likely Republican voters, 60 percent to 28 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. It is an automated phone poll, often viewed as less reliable than surveys using live callers, but other recent polls have also shown Rubio leading by double digits.
Whether back-wax gate can help turn the numbers around for Crist remains to be seen, but the governor's male-waxing innuendo has managed to infuriate some Rubio supporters. Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative RedState blog, has launched a campaign urging people to send back wax to the governor's office.
"Let's send Charlie some back wax. And if he tries to use the stuff, he'll at least experience the same pain the voters have been experiencing for the last four years," Erickson wrote.
Adam Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.