Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday launched his first TV ad in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, a 30-second assault on Marco Rubio's image as a darling of the conservative insurgency.
"We thought he was different. Ideologically pure," a narrator says. "Marco Rubio shot to national stardom. Called 'the Republican Obama.' Now, comes the truth."
Just over an hour after the announcement, Rubio said he'd put two 15-second ads on the air, designed to bracket Crist's spot. Both ads feature Crist's embrace of President Barack Obama during a federal stimulus rally.
Rubio has used the image repeatedly to portray Crist as less than conservative.
Crist's ad draws on a series of Times/Herald reports on Rubio's use of a Republican Party-issued American Express card for personal items and for failing to disclose all expenses for a political committee, as required by law. Rubio has disputed the reports and says he sent about $16,000 to American Express to cover personal expenses.
Crist, trailing Rubio badly in the polls, also continued to label Rubio a "lobbyist," a claim PolitiFact Florida found barely true. Years ago, Rubio represented some clients with business, primarily zoning issues, before Miami-Dade government.
Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said, "Because Charlie Crist has no conservative record or vision to talk about, he is trying to turn this election into a campaign of smears and distortions."
He said Republicans know Rubio is the "only candidate they can trust to stand up to President Obama's big government agenda and offer clear conservative alternatives."
Crist campaign manager Eric Eikenberg said the ad is slated to begin this evening in "strategic markets." "(Rubio) claims to be a fiscal conservative when it comes to spending, and what comes to light could not be farther from the truth," Eikenberg said.
Also Wednesday, Crist launched a radio ad that casts himself as a tax-cutting, health care-bill hating true Republican. That ad does not mention Rubio, who began airing commercials on TV earlier this month.
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.