Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In Crist's back yard, Rubio courts votes

Senate candidate Marco Rubio shakes hands at a Pinellas County Republican Party event at Tucson’s Southwest Grill in Clearwater on Monday. He has been endorsed by the Club for Growth.


Senate candidate Marco Rubio shakes hands at a Pinellas County Republican Party event at Tucson’s Southwest Grill in Clearwater on Monday. He has been endorsed by the Club for Growth.

CLEARWATER — After picking up a key endorsement Monday that could pump big money into his campaign, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio set to work on another win that would give Charlie Crist a big, symbolic blow in his home county.

The Miami Republican, challenging Crist for the U.S. Senate nomination, drew about 400 people Monday night to a meeting of the Pinellas Republican Party. In January, the group will hold a "straw poll" on whether local activists prefer Rubio or Crist as their nominee. While officially meaningless, a Pinellas victory for Rubio would be especially stinging coming from the Republican activists who know the governor best.

"I come to this community tonight running for the same office that one of your native sons is running for. This is someone that you know, someone that you voted for, someone that you raised money for, someone that you've worked for, someone you've invested time in all these years," said Rubio, declaring that President Barack Obama's big government agenda has put America at an extraordinary crossroads.

"Never before have we so needed people to go to Washington, D.C., to stand up to that message and offer the American people a clear alternative to that message," Rubio said in his third Tampa Bay stop in a week.

Crist is overwhelmingly beating Rubio in statewide polls and money-raising, but the contest is drawing national attention as the highest-profile example of the moderate vs. conservative battle within the GOP. The influential Club for Growth, which helped push Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party and recently spent about $1 million to defeat a liberal Republican in an upstate New York congressional election, on Monday formally endorsed Rubio.

"Marco Rubio is the real deal, one of the brightest young stars in American politics today, and a proven champion of economic liberty," said Club for Growth president Chris Chocola, noting that the club had concluded Rubio can beat Crist for the nomination and beat Democrat Kendrick Meek in the general election.

Even in Crist's home county, that view was common among the party faithful gathered Monday night at Tucson's restaurant. Republican executive committees tend to draw the most fervent and conservative activists, but it remains to be seen whether those hard-core partisans dominate the primary electorate.

"It's a sliver of the base," said Greg Truax, Crist's Hillsborough County campaign chairman, dismissing the significance of Crist's overwhelming losses in straw poll votes across the state lately.

Crist, though, appears to understand the symbolism of Rubio winning the support of his home county's most die-hard Republican door knockers and envelope stuffers. He stopped by unexpectedly at last month's Republican Executive Committee meeting and is scheduled to be the main speaker in December. The following month is the vote.

Former Pinellas Republican Chairman Tony DiMatteo, now a Rubio backer, said that it could be close and that he hears Crist has been working the phones.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, also attended Monday's meeting, but stressed that he avoids primary endorsements, even in cases like this involving a hometown colleague. But Beverly Young, his wife, offered her own thoughts after Rubio's rousing speech.

"I love Marco," she gushed.

"She's not endorsing either," said the congressman, ushering her away.

"I love Marco," she repeated before disappearing out the door.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at

In Crist's back yard, Rubio courts votes 11/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2009 11:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Perspective: As the toll climbs, advocates bring renewed attention to Florida gun violence


    Times Staff Writer

    Like most 12-year-old girls, Ra'Mya Eunice loved slumber parties.

    The Empire State Building in New York City was bathed in tangerine light last year to mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day. It was part of the Wear Orange campaign led by the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety. [Courtesy of Everytown for Gun Safety]
  2. Lawyer says Kushner willing to cooperate with investigators


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is willing to cooperate with federal investigators looking into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, his attorney said.

    In this May 23 photo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, left, and his wife Ivanka Trump watch during a visit by President Donald Trump to Yad Vashem to honor the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem. The Washington Post is reporting that the FBI is investigating meetings that Trump's son-in-law, Kushner, had in December 2016, with Russian officials. [AP photo]
  3. Muslim faith greater than fear for Wharton's Rania Samhouri (w/video)


    TAMPA — Rania Samhouri graduated Monday night from Wharton High School, and many times throughout the ceremony she flashed back to a moment that changed her life.

     Rania Samhouri stretches after track practice on Monday April 24, 2017 at Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida. Rania, who is Muslim, recently started wearing her hijab during track competitions. She graduates from Wharton this year and will attend University of South Florida on scholarship next year.
  4. Deputies seek two men in attempted armed home invasion robbery in Seminole


    Detectives are searching for two men they say broke into a home in Seminole Thursday night in an attempted armed robbery.

  5. Forecast: A sunny, dry Memorial Day weekend ahead in Tampa Bay


    Tampa Bay residents can expect to see a sunny, rain-free Memorial Day weekend with clear skies and temperatures hovering in the upper 80s and low 90s.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]