Florida Is National Battleground for Conservative Soul

The national conservative blogosphere is in no mood for moderation, and recently a video has circulated reminding them what they're fighting for in Florida. 

That's former Speaker Marco Rubio's farewell address to the Florida House in 2008, before he became the underdog candidate for U.S. Senate. As such, it's seen as proof that his advocacy for true conservative political principles is not merely a way of defining contrasts between himself and the moderate ways of the race's prohibitive favorite Charlie Crist. Rubio is the real thing.

Suddenly, to the conservative hardcore, the instant endorsements that Crist received from ranking Senate Republicans after his announcement earlier this month is outrageous not just because it suggests a willingness to bend party orthodoxy but because in doing so, the party kneecaps a young, dashing, eloquent personality with potential to add star power -- a quantity it needs desperately as younger demographics slip from its reach.

In a column in Human Events, a website for the "conservative underground," John Gizzi describes how Sen. John Cornyn, chair of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee, attended a luncheon last week "in which many national conservatives voiced anger over the NRSC's blessing of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist for the Senate in Florida." Gizzi himself put Cornyn on the defensive: "I asked Cornyn why his committee would make a move like that when Crist had a primary race against conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio."

Cornyn's explanation -- that Crist has terrific poll numbers -- is unconvincing not just to the conservative blogger but to at least one powerful engine for Republican consensus, The Weekly Standard, which published a glowing profile of Rubio last week. It acknowledged Crist's dominance in polls but said:

That will change between now and the August 2010 primary, as the media flock to cover the most prominent conservative-versus-moderate Republican primary campaign in the country. When Republicans in Florida get to know Rubio, they will discover a dynamic speaker with an appealing biography and a deeply held conservative philosophy.

One of the most powerful GOP members on Capitol Hill, Cornyn has apparently been so unnerved by the backlash that followed his committee's endorsement of Crist that he has refused to answer more questions about it, especially as bloggers call for his resignation or at least for his withdrawal of that endorsement.

Erick Erickson of RedState.com is among the former, and this weekend he renewed his call for campaign donations to Rubio and heralded the decision by the Republican Party of Florida to stay neutral in the Senate race as a sign the tide is turning.


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