Marco Rubio was pleased but not distracted with his 57% to 28% lead over Gov. Charlie Crist in this week’s Rasmussen Reports poll for the U.S. Senate GOP primary in Florida.
“We didn’t get too excited when we were behind, so we’re not going to get too excited that the one’s showing us ahead,” said Rubio aboard his Take a Stand bus, which he took across Florida this week as part of a campaign tour that had to be shortened at the last-minute after word came that Rubio’s father was diagnosed a second time with lung cancer.
“The challenge is like anything else is just to stay focused and remind ourselves what this campaign is about,” said Rubio, the former speaker of the Florida house. “It’s not about me, it’s not about him [Crist], it’s about the people of our state and who they want to elect.”
Rubio, who trailed Crist by 22 points last August in the same Rasmussen poll, is becoming hard to ignore. At a tour stop in Ocala, Fla., the waitress serving some of Rubio’s staff and the press on the tour noticed the Rubio shirt worn by a staffer and immediately asked for signs or bumper stickers so that she could show her support. Then there are congressional figures like Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Conservative Fund, who says the PAC is looking for Marco Rubios to endorse in 2010.
It wasn’t always like this. At the bus tour kickoff event, Rubio referenced the early days when “the only people that thought I had a chance to win all lived in my house.” It was even doubtful at first whether his opponent was taking him seriously. Crist was sitting governor of Florida and outraised Rubio in the beginning by millions of dollars. But Rubio feels Crist started to pay attention fast.
“At one point in this campaign, he wouldn’t even acknowledge that he had a primary, and now he can’t stop talking about me,” said Rubio, who added he’d just like to get back to the issues of the campaign.
While Rubio can name instances of good things that happened to his campaign—including a National Review cover and the first time his campaign raised $1 million in a quarter—he can’t name the specific turning point where he went from nameless underdog to the Rudy of 2010 races.
“I think literally, it was not one of those things that was built in a day, or even in a week, or in one moment,” Rubio said. “It was just a slow introduction to as many people as possible in Florida.”
That’s the story of Mike Philbin and Jennifer Terrani, both from Florida, who attended the kickoff event in Orlando. Both said they heard of Rubio through word of mouth—Terrani estimates she first found out about Rubio six months ago. Terrani, who said she’s still educating herself about Rubio’s candidacy, decided to come to the event to hear him for herself. Philbin said he’s been following the campaign for a few weeks and thought Rubio outperformed Crist in the two candidates’ debate. He also found himself agreeing with what Rubio said in the debate.
Philbon said he thinks Crist has had his chance, and that it’s been a “disappointment.”
Rubio continued to emphasize on his bus tour that he is the candidate who will stand up to Washington, D.C.
“It’s the reason why I got in this race because I know I’m the only one running that will do that,” he said during an appearance on this week on Hannity.
He has until the primary in August to convince Floridians of this, and Rubio said his campaign still has a long way to go.