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A few weeks ago, Florida Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio looked like he would be sailing into Washington with the political winds of talk radio and the tea parties at his back. But today, it seems like Marco is slightly adrift with this once-solid base.
With an embarrassing GOP credit card scandal, and now an independent challenge from formidable rival Charlie Crist, what seemed to be a slam dunk primary win has turned into an even-odds general election race. And, with Libertarian candidate Alexander Snitker nipping at his heels, he could be quickly become mired in a two-front battle for conservative hearts and minds.
“The shine is coming off the ball with Marco Rubio,” said Jason Hoyt, co-host of the Tea Party Patriots Live radio show. That sentiment is being echoed by tea party groups around the state, prompting many to take a deeper look at Rubio’s past – with some not liking what they find.
“My first impression is [Rubio] being an attorney, Speaker of the House, a lobbyist, he’s been in politics for a while…he’s pretty much what we’re trying to replace,” said Jay Jacobs, events coordinator of the Baker County Tea Party.
The tea party groups don’t appear to be the monolithic voting blocs that the Rubio camp was likely counting on. At any given tea party event, one is likely to find as many Ron Paul supporters as there are Sarah Palin fans. A recent Politico poll reveals that tea party members are evenly split between the religious right and libertarians.
By most indications, Crist has little chance in courting a significant number of tea party voters. The TV ads touting Crist’s conservative record are nowhere to be seen these days. But, his strategic shift toward the political middle ground has gained him favor with centrist Republicans that would have normally supported the GOP primary winner. It’s likely that Crist will siphon votes from Democrat front runner Kendrick Meek as well.
Religious conservatives still seem to be solidly in Rubio’s camp. However, he faces a difficult dilemma on whether to court more moderate Republicans voters, or try to gain ground with libertarian-minded voters, knowing that placating one group may risk alienating the other.
Not long ago, Rubio enjoyed a strong home-field advantage in talk radio. But over the past few weeks of endless on-air discussion and prognostication about the Florida Senate race, a slightly different picture seems to be emerging.
“I know this is being looked at as a three-way race,” talk host Bud Hedinger told his listeners on AM 540 in Orlando yesterday. “But there are other candidates in this race, and it might be time to look toward a guy like Alex [Snitker].”
Lately, even TV and radio icon Glenn Beck has been leaning more and more libertarian. Though Rubio has been a frequent guest on his shows, Beck told his radio audience last week that Snitker was, “the type of Libertarian I could go for.”
Voter frustration with both major parties is a bellwether of this election cycle. Fiscal conservatives have become disillusioned with Bush for his deficit spending and ballooning the debt, while many social liberals are growing angry at Obama for the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and support for the Patriot Act.
Couple that with historically-low Congressional approval ratings, plus a strong sentiment against career politicians in general, and the political pump may be primed for a third-party candidate to take the fast boat to Washington.