The Club for Growth has fired the next shot in the expected Republican civil war between hard line conservatives and candidates they find too milquetoast and moderate for their collective tastes. It came in the form of their long expected endorsement of Marco Rubio to be the next Senator from Florida. Analysts are already lining up to draw comparisons between this race and the recently concluded special election loss of Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, but parallels between the two fights are few and far between.
Critics are justifiably concerned about external forces applying vast amounts of money and media pressure to bolster extremely conservative primary candidates in potentially more moderate districts where they might go on to lose the general election. This worry is particularly valid when there are two relatively unknown candidates such as state legislators struggling for name recognition across a wider section of turf. Whether we like it or not, money is the most powerful form of political speech these days and high level endorsements can draw heavy media coverage, giving one of them an even bigger leg up.
The Florida Senate race really doesn’t fit into this mold. His opponent, Charlie Crist, has been a quite popular governor, rumored at times to be a future presidential contender. He is very well funded and Rubio is the one who started out fighting a lack of name recognition with more than two thirds of the state’s voters.
Even if Rubio receives endorsements from Sarah Palin and bundles of cash from the Glenn Beck Alternate Universe, there is one thing that Palin and Beck can not do, and that is go into Florida on election day and pull a lever for him. (I exclude Rush Limbaugh from this example because he pulled up stakes and changed his primary residence to the Sunshine State, so presumably he can vote there if he has a mind to.)
Unlike New York’s special election, where the county party leaders selected the nominees, Florida will have a primary. The voters there will be able to select the candidate they like best, even if they are not the most likely to win in the general. And with the injections of money and media attention that Rubio is likely to receive, the voters will probably be equally well informed about both of their choices.
In this case, the tea party attention to Rubio may actually serve to level the playing field, giving equal time and opportunity to both candidates. And in the end these outside influences can’t really change the outcome. Only the voters can do that.