The Buzz: Cruz revs up rivalry with Rubio

Front- Senator Joe Negron, R- Stuart and Rep. Seth McKeel, R- Lakeland, talk to the media about the Senate and House budget success, Monday, April 28, 2014 at the conclusion of the Florida Legislature Appropriations Conference meeting.
Front- Senator Joe Negron, R- Stuart and Rep. Seth McKeel, R- Lakeland, talk to the media about the Senate and House budget success, Monday, April 28, 2014 at the conclusion of the Florida Legislature Appropriations Conference meeting.
Published Nov. 8, 2015

Marco Rubio isn't the only young Republican having a good run. Ted Cruz has posted impressive fundraising hauls and increased his poll standing to the point where people are speculating about the two fighting it out for the nomination.

"I like Marco. I respect him. He's a friend of mine. He's a great guy," Cruz said Thursday on CNN. And then he pulled out the knife, if subtly.

Cruz began to talk about the GOP contest always boiling down to two lanes: the "moderate" and the "conservative." In the past, he went on, the moderate, establishment side won because it had the money. Cruz has shown he can more than compete financially, pulling in $26 million, not including $38 million that has poured into super PACs on his side. In the last quarter, Cruz doubled Rubio's fundraising, $12 million to nearly $6 million.

"The moderate lane is crowded as all get-out. You've got four or five candidates that are slugging it out … and I don't know who comes out of that alone," Cruz told Jake Tapper.

"Marco is certainly formidable in that lane. I think the Jeb campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate lane."

But Cruz said conservatives are coalescing around him. "Once it gets down to a head-to-head contest between a conservative and a moderate, I think the conservative wins. If you look at Republican primaries, conservatives outnumber moderates 3-to-1 right now. If we get head to head, I'm very confident that we're in a position to win this."

It's not hard to imagine what Cruz, 44, would use to draw contrasts with Rubio, also 44. Immigration, chiefly, but also Rubio being more of a follower than leader on the Obamacare shutdown. Rubio supports the Obama administration's trade moves, though his campaign said he has not come to a final position on the Trans-Pacific accord. Rubio also didn't endorse Cruz, as the New York Times reported, something the Texan "resented."

In Rubio's favor, he has burnished his own conservative credentials, lacks Cruz's rougher edges and has a more commanding presence on foreign policy. His fundraising has lagged but that's changing (see Singer, Paul).

Who's in, who's out?

Prominent lobbyist and fundraiser Brian Ballard has quit the Jeb Bush team, citing "attacks" on Rubio. "The campaign has become negative, one that is about attacking and trying to bring down Marco Rubio. And that doesn't sit well — not only with me, but with anyone who knows the two," Ballard told Politico. "Marco's a friend of mine. I didn't sign up for a campaign that was going to be negative and attack a bright star of the party's future. It doesn't make sense. I'm over it. And I'm done." Still, Ballard stopped raising money for Bush three months ago, when Bush was far less overt about Rubio.

Meanwhile, another prominent Bush moneyman, billionaire Cuban-American businessman Mike Fernandez, says he's staying put. "Heck no!!!! Actually… NO!" he said in an email Friday when asked about rumors he could be aiding Rubio. Asked if was surprised about Ballard, Fernandez wrote: "Not at all. Some people shift loyalty based on polls. Others only move based on VALUES." Fernandez has helped Bush raise money and personally gave $3 million to the pro-Bush super PAC.

First things first

A new website with a new slogan and a new "tax cut tour." Gov. Rick Scott returns to the tax cut campaign trail Monday when he'll visit every major media market to promote his call for $1 billion in tax cuts in the legislative session that starts in January.

Scott plans stops in Melbourne, Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Jacksonville and Panama City. The new slogan is "1st for Jobs" and the website — an official state site but with a decidedly campaign-style look — is FloridaFirstfor, where the fine print urges visitors to call their senator and representative to urge support for his tax cuts.

Scott is seen as positioning himself to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, but he has said he has made no decision on the 2018 race.

Atwater stays put

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

Atwater, a Palm Beach County Republican, said in September that he was reconsidering running for the Senate, after getting encouragement from friends.

But on Thursday, Atwater first told the Palm Beach Post then confirmed to the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, that he came to the same conclusion he came to in the spring: he will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

"As I have said before, I am thrilled and honored to be the CFO of Florida," Atwater said in a statement through political adviser Brian Hughes. "Despite the gracious words of encouragement from supporters and friends to once again consider a different path, I still believe the best place for me to serve the people of Florida is as their CFO."

Times staff writers Adam C. Smith, Steve Bousquet and Jeremy Wallace contributed.