Today, the leader of conservatives in the Senate, Jim DeMint, endorsed Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist in the Florida Primary. Crist, as many of you may be aware, is the middle-of-the-roader who has been endorsed by the NRSC, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain.
On the other hand, Rubio is the young, charismatic, Hispanic, conservative former Speaker of the House in Florida who had already been endorsed by Mike Huckabee (not sure if that’s official) and Jeb Bush, Jr.. DeMint is not only the first sitting senator to endorse Rubio, he also runs the Senate Conservative Fund, which will mean money for Rubio’s campaign coffers.
What follows are my notes, not quotes from the teleconference.
Jim DeMint: I’ve endorsed Marco Rubio because Americans are outraged at the direction our country is being taken. Everywhere we look, the government is expanding and people are looking for an alternative and it’s important that we don’t offer the status quo, Democrat-lite, in 2010.
I think Marco Rubio’s message is inspiring. He gets you excited about being an American and a Republican. Marco has convinced me that he can win the race in Florida and set the pace for Republicans all over the country.
Marco Rubio: I am delighted Jim DeMint endorsed me because he hasn’t just talked the talk, he has walked the walk in the Senate. I think we’re moving away from prosperity and we need to make changes in this country. We’re spending money we don’t have. The government is expanding. The Constitution is being ignored. Having an endorsement of Jim DeMint is very important. It’s a great day for our campaign.
Senator DeMint, are you part of the NRSC Committee? How do you feel about their Crist endorsement?
I respect them and let them know what I was going to do, but I am not so much worried about what they’re going to do. I am just concerned about what I think we need to do. People all over the country need to hear from Marco.
Have you spoken to other senators who feel the same way?
I have and I suspect more of them will endorse.
The line the NRSC has put out there about you is that you can’t win the general election. What do you say to that? (Question from me to Rubio)
Then they have no confidence in our message. I think people are looking for conservative leadership. I believe Americans agree with us on the role the government is playing in our economy and I know that because Barack Obama had to lie about it to get elected.
(To Jim DeMint) The NRSC points to poll numbers that say Crist is beating Rubio badly. Do you think he can win the primary?
I was in the same situation myself and I won and not only do I think Marco Rubio can win, I think he’s the favorite. I think he has ideas that are much more powerful than the politicians. I think the people in Florida are going to move towards his message.
Marco, can you talk about your plan to win?
We started early. We are going to appear all over the state. We are going to go everywhere and get it out there over the next 14 months. It will be a campaign run from the bottom up, not the top down. We have a limited government view of the country. I’m not going to change what I believe every four years based on the poll numbers.
Marco, do you have any milestones you want to hit?
We’re not running a conventional campaign. This is not college football. We want this campaign to mean something, to be about ideas.
On your website, you take a tough anti-illegal stance, but I’ve heard complaints that people didn’t like your stance on illegal immigration when you were Speaker of the House in Florida. (Question from me to Marco Rubio)
There were a number of bills that didn’t pass when I was Speaker. They didn’t have the votes. Those bills didn’t pass this year either. It’s not that I stopped them, but I was blamed by some people for those bills not making it through.
I believe we need to secure our borders and fix our VISA program. Only after we do that can we move on to fixing legal immigration and other issues like guest worker programs. We need to secure our borders before we even talk about something like a guest worker program — but, I am not in favor of amnesty. I think it would be demoralizing and destructive.
(To Jim DeMint) Will you be on the campaign trail for Marco Rubio?
Yes, although I am not thinking that the people in Florida are waiting with baited breath for my appearance — but, I will do what I can to help Marco win.
If we ever want to be back in the majority, I’m convinced that the party needs to move back to our principles, not to the Left. I view Marco’s campaign as a campaign for our country.
Summary: DeMint’s endorsement is a HUGE plus for Rubio because it will mean money and credibility. It also reinforces the meme of Charlie, the tired, old, establishment Republican vs. the young outsider who’ll stand up for conservative principles.
PS: Rubio sounded great on the call — confident, charismatic, fired up. This is a guy we’re going to want to have in the Senate.
Bonus: Earlier today, I had a Marco Rubio fan send me a couple of pictures of Rubio from a Florida gun show. Normally, it would be hard to work them in, but this post seems like as good a reason as any.
Bonus #2: Although I have a lot of respect for Kos’s ability to organize and build a successful website, I don’t much care for him as a person and I honestly don’t think he’s a particularly talented or insightful political commentator. That being said, I think he’s right about this,
It’s a closed primary, so independents and Dems, who seem to love Crist, won’t have a say in the matter.
The Club for Growth will undoubtedly throw its considerable fundraising heft behind Rubio, and the conservative grassroots and teabagging crowd already see Rubio as one of their own. Crist, for his part, is a constant target of Florida (and even national) wingnut radio. True blood conservatives either hate him already, or WILL hate him before long.
That leaves Crist with ill-respected national GOP leaders as his “base”, and they can be used as a foil to further attack him as a creature of DC entrenched interests. Really, that’s not a good place to be in this political environment. More and more conservative politicians looking to curry favor with their shrinking but influential base will cast their lot with Rubio. Don’t be surprised if some 2012 presidential hopefulls also roll the dice on Rubio. It would provide instant Conservative cred. I’d certainly do it if I was Palin, Sanford, Gingrich, or Romney.
So yeah, I’m calling this one early for Rubio, even though the task ahead for him will be long and grueling.