MIAMI — With Gov. Charlie Crist expected to announce Thursday afternoon that he will run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, Republican frontrunner Marco Rubio spent the morning thanking supporters while saying a three-candidate race will change nothing in his campaign message and strategy.
Around 10:30 a.m., Rubio walked into a Coral Gables phone bank on Madeira Avenue where volunteers made calls from a cramped room plastered with homemade "Rubio for Senate'' posters.
The former House speaker cheerfully dialed a few numbers himself. He pretended to order a cheese pizza and thanked one voter for "believing in me when this didn't look so promising.''
Rubio quietly registered as a candidate for the Senate in early 2009, when Crist was widely seen as the Republican frontrunner in the race. But today, Crist is a Republican Party pariah and polls show Rubio holds a wide lead in a primary race.
"Today feels like an election day,'' Rubio told volunteers as a gaggle of media surrounded him. But Thursday was "no celebration,'' he said: "This is still an election. No one has cast any votes yet.''
Rubio said his message and campaign strategy will stay the same regardless of whether Crist continues to run as a Republican or as an independent.
"To me it's not a factor. I knew when I started this race that my opponents supported the Obama liberal agenda,'' he said of Crist and Democratic frontrunner Kendrick Meek. "I just didn't realize I'd have to run against both of them at the same time.''
The latest Rasmussen Reports poll of Florida voters found that in a race against Crist and Meek, Rubio would pull 37 percent, Crist 30 percent and Meek 22 percent.
Asked if his campaign started as a David and Goliath bout, Rubio said "I always remind people that David won.''