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Rubio Continues Quick Rise in G.O.P. With Win in Florida Senate Race

Jeb Bush said he had to fight back tears when he introduced the victor in the Florida Senate race, Marco Rubio, “the right man at the right time.” Mr. Rubio, when he took the stage amid the palm trees at the Biltmore Hotel, in front of a mostly bilingual crowd, was no less emotional — about his uphill battle to defeat a popular governor, and about what he described as his abiding faith in the dream lived out by his immigrant parents.

“The United States is simply the greatest nation in all of human history,” Mr. Rubio said. But he added, “it requires action on our part.”

Mr. Rubio pledged to stay true to the ideology of fiscal restraint he laid out during the campaign. Offering no details, he pledged to make the country better for his children by rejecting the Washington status quo, and even traditional Republican standards.

“We’re making a great mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican party,” Mr. Rubio said in his 15-minute speech. “What they are is a second chance — a second chance for Republicans to be what they said were going to be not so long ago.”

It seemed, in some ways, a fitting end. Mr. Rubio, 39, was not expected to win when the campaign started, but with rousing speeches that centered on “reclaiming America” and returning to core Republican values of fiscal restraint, he became one of the first candidates propelled by the Tea Party insurgents. Although he later distanced himself from their orthodoxy, he won, like many other conservative Congressional candidates in Florida (including Daniel Webster who beat the liberal firebrand, Alan Grayson), with a message that focused on the economy, lower taxes and limited government.

Mr. Rubio’s pitch, here in a state won by Mr. Obama two years ago but still reeling from the recession and foreclosures, apparently captured the mood. For Mr. Rubio, the victory completes a dramatic rise for a young Cuban-American candidate, the son of a bartender and a maid in middle class West Miami.

He slew the dragon, or at least Charlie Crist, the state’s popular moderate governor. It was Mr. Rubio’s vast lead in the polls that helped push Mr. Crist to bolt from the Republican Party and run a campaign without affiliation.

And while at times, Mr. Crist’s effort seemed to gain traction, Republicans unified behind Mr. Rubio, leaving Mr. Crist and Kendrick B. Meek, the Democrat in the race, to spend much of the campaign battling for the same liberal and moderate voters.

Mr. Rubio, in turn, coasted forward as a Republican favorite. Although he spent most of his career in the Florida Legislature, he ran as an outsider, and supporters said he would bring a new approach to Congress.

“He will go to Washington as a symbol of the new conservative movement — young, committed, and a purist when it comes to his philosophy and his points of view,” said Al Cardenas, the former chairman of Florida’s Republican Party. “It will make him one of the key figures in our party nationally.”

Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida, who worked with Mr. Rubio when they both served in Tallahassee, spoke of him as a friend: “I am so proud he will be part of a next generation of leaders that will restore America.”

Democrats entered Election Day with 592,000 more registered voters than Republicans. State officials said turnout was steady, but not overwhelming, with about 2.3 million voters casting ballots early, out of about 11 million registered voters.

Many voters said they were frustrated, and Democratic strategists acknowledged that their party had struggled. Screven Watson, the former executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, said the Senate and governor’s races would be seen as a wake-up call for Democrats.

“If we lose them both, we’re going to have a long, hard look at our party structure — how we’re running races, our messaging,” Mr. Watson said.

Many Republicans said they were expecting major victories in races across the state, but Mr. Cardenas warned against claims of overconfidence.

“The one constant about Florida is how fluid it is,” Mr. Cardenas said, adding, “The truth is Florida will continue to be a purple state. We just happen to have hit a good cycle.”

Mr. Rubio acknowledged that he, too, could lose his way. He ended his victory speech by asking the crowd of supporters to pray “that we will not change,” and he said, “that we will always remember the things we cared about on this night.”

(from the NY Times - original article available here)

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