The Corner

Rubio Rises

Marco Rubio’s Senate campaign is surging. In the past ten days, Rubio, the former Florida House speaker challenging Gov. Charlie Crist in the GOP primary, has raised $860,000. He is also building a lead in the polls — Rasmussen’s latest survey gives Rubio a twelve-point edge over Crist. And he’s doing it all without the support of the national party.

“We’re living in an unprecedented time where a large number of people that have never participated in politics are paying attention,” Rubio tells National Review Online. “They realize that we’re going to make some decisions over the next few years that will determine the very identity of our country. Given the environment, I think it has become a lot easier to get people to pay attention and to take action. That’s the great challenge of 2010: Can we take this motivation that exists out there to stand up to the agenda that’s coming out of Washington and turn it into action? Right now that action is contributing to campaigns like mine. We’ve tried to harness that and feel good about what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.”

Rubio says the stakes this year are high and about more than one party beating another. “This election is about more than Republicans versus Democrats or liberals versus conservatives. It is a choice about the very essence of what this country is going to be like. Are we going to continue to be a place of limited government, free enterprise, and personal liberty? Or, are we going to become a country like so many around the world where the government dominates every sector of society? The problem is that the people in charge right now in Washington don’t believe in limited government or in the free-enterprise system. They don’t support it. They see it as something that creates pockets of prosperity, but, by and large, think it is unfair and want to change it. They want the U.S. to move away from that. They won’t campaign on that, of course, because they know they won’t get elected if they say it, but that’s exactly what they want to do, and they’re using this downturn in the economy as an excuse.”

So is Rubio a man of the tea party? “I certainly identify with the movement and the energy that exists out there,” he says. “From the 9/12 movement to people showing up to marches across the country, there is a burst of energy out around America. There are so many different manifestations. The tea party is by far the most effective and highest profile example of that energy, but it’s just part of something much bigger — people engaging in the process because they disagree with the agenda in Washington and want an alternative.”

With all of his success as a conservative insurgent, has anyone from the GOP establishment offered a mea culpa? “Not really,” Rubio says. “At the time, when they decided not to endorse me, the sentiment in the party was that the way for Republicans to win in the future is to behave more like Democrats. They looked at Charlie Crist and saw that he fit that mold. Famous people who had won statewide always win, they thought, so they lined up with him. Looking back, a lot of things would be different if they knew then what they know now.”

Next week, Rubio will travel to Washington to speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. He says his speech will introduce his campaign to voters across the country, and “help to motivate other conservatives running for office.” He’ll also do some fundraising and is planning to sit down for numerous television interviews. Fox News, he notes, has already agreed to host a debate between him and Crist in March, but Crist has not yet responded to the invitation.

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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