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08.25.10

A Reason for Conservatives to Cheer

Marco Rubio's extraordinary rise in Florida, and energized Republican voters in Tuesday's primaries, are heartening news for conservatives—and Florida's three-way Senate race looks to be November's most interesting.

Sen. John McCain survived a primary challenge from a buffoonish pseudo-conservative who starred in an infomerical for a get-rich-quick-scam. A rich guy lost Florida’s Democratic Senate nomination after an acrimonious and expensive primary battle. The winner, Rep. Kendrick Meek, will put national Democrats in an awkward spot. As a leading African-American legislator rooted in Miami, he’ll likely keep Democrats and their allies more openly embracing Florida’s Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist, the left’s best hope against young Cuban-American conservative Marco Rubio. A rich guy won Florida’s Republican gubernatorial nomination after an extremely acrimonious and expensive primary battle. The loser, Attorney General Bill McCollum, has hinted that he won’t necessarily endorse billionaire health-care entrepreneur Rick Scott, though one has to assume that he’ll eventually fall in line. Given that McCollum essentially called Scott a crooked scoundrel—the kind who ties defenseless women to railroad tracks while waxing his evil mustache—the endorsement won’t be glowing in its praise. Other races in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, and Vermont mostly stayed close to the script.

Grassroots conservatives across the country will have an unusually charismatic and effective advocate in Rubio, who some have described as the Republican Barack Obama.

The broader lessons are fairly straightforward. Republican voters are energized and Democratic voters are far less so. The economies of Arizona and Florida have both been battered by the housing bust, and the increasingly grim employment news bodes ill for incumbents in general and Democratic incumbents in particular.

The main bright spot, for conservatives at least, has been the extraordinary rise of Rubio, a 39-year-old who briefly served as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. After Gov. Crist announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate, most observers believed he was a shoo-in. And then Rubio launched his quixotic bid, winning the tacit backing of revered former Gov. Jeb Bush and the enthusiastic support of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party kingmaker second only to Sarah Palin.

Mark McKinnon: 5 Lessons from the Primaries

John Avlon: The Anti-Incumbent Narrative Falters

Complete coverage of the primaries
By forcing Crist to abandon the GOP, Rubio teed up what is likely to be the country’s most interesting and volatile Senate race. Florida has a way of bucking national trends in off-year elections, zigging left when the rest of the country zags right. It is easy to imagine Democratic CFO Alexis Sink winning the governor’s mansion and, perhaps, Rubio squeaking through in a tight three-way contest. If that does happen, grassroots conservatives across the country will have an unusually charismatic and effective advocate in Rubio, who some have described as the Republican Barack Obama.

Or perhaps Sen. Charlie Crist will join forces with Sen. Joe Lieberman to create a breakaway republic called “Centristland” that will wage a decades-long war against the Union. Either way, it will certainly be interesting.

Reihan Salam is a policy advisor at e21 and a fellow at the New America Foundation.