Stepping into a primary battle that some are labeling a fight for the future of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney has endorsed surging conservative candidate Marco Rubio for US Senate over Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a moderate who entered the race last year as the overwhelming favorite.
"Marco Rubio’s meteoric rise – first to Florida speaker of the house, and now to a candidate for the US Senate – is the embodiment of the American Dream,'' Romney said in announcing the endorsement. "While I respect Governor Crist, Marco Rubio’s proven record of conservative, principled, and idea-driven leadership is what Florida needs now. Marco Rubio will be a reliable spokesman against the Washington culture of higher spending, higher taxes and higher debt.''
Romney's leadership political action committee donated the maximum amount, $5,000, to Rubio's campaign.
The endorsement is a blow to the campaign of Crist, who has tumbled in the polls. A survey released last week showed Rubio's lead over Crist had expanded to 22 percentage points -- 56 to 33 -- among a group of registered Republicans, according to Quinnipiac University researchers who took the poll. In January, Rubio clung to a 47-44 lead.
Crist's waning numbers have prompted some political analysts and GOP insiders to suggest he could drop out of the primary and run as an independent against Rubio and Democratic hopeful US Representative Kendrick Meek. A Quinnipiac poll showed such a move could favor Crist, who would be able to draw on more moderate independent voters. Crist would need to make such a decision by April 30.
At a rally in Tampa yesterday. Romney urged Crist not to follow that path and possibly undercut Rubio's chances. Romney, former Massachusetts governor who ran for the GOP nomination for president in 2008, said that Crist should either stay in the US Senate race as a Republican or step aside and support his opponent. He said he expects "Crist to do the right thing."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.