Marco Rubio’s record haul of $4.5 million (narrowly eclipsing the single quarter record of $4.3 million set by Charlie Crist in his first quarter of fundraising) clearly expands his options.
It also helps Rubio shift the narrative slightly. After dominating the media spotlight earlier this year, Rubio has lately been haunted by a media meme that asks, essentially, “where’s the excitement gone?” The appearance of a hotly contested Democratic primary between Meek and Greene and Crist’s move to run as an NPA put Rubio into a strange new position – an establishment candidate struggling to with a lack of oxygen in the media environment.
But there are some advantages to being an establishment candidate. Rubio is benefitting from his status as a tea party favorite – and also from hard-liners furious with Crist’s refusal to commit political suicide – but let’s not forget that Rubio is also a deeply embedded figure in the Tallahassee and South Florida political establishment. A former Speaker of the Florida House, a former lobbyist based in South Florida… Rubio has the credentials and “chits” to raise big bucks and he is cashing in his chips right now.
In a three way race, he can, conceivably, win with 38-40% of the vote. His campaign staff is almost certainly betting on Meek winning the Democratic primary and consolidating some of the Democratic support that is right now splitting between Crist and Meek – just enough to prevent Crist from becoming the de facto choice of Dems.
That scenario would suggest that he could simply continue to appeal to the tea party crowd on the ground and use his financial resources to make judicious attacks on Crist and Meek. I suspect that his negative ads will have a secret agenda – for example, an ad attacking Crist on flip-flopping on abortion would actually be intended not to drive pro-lifers away from Crist (Rubio will probably already have a firm lock on those who primarily vote on that issue), but to sow doubt among pro-choice moderates that Crist is really on their side.
The classic example of this is when Gray Davis in California attacked Bill Riordan for flip flopping on abortion. The ad was not intended, as it overtly suggested, to criticize Riordan for being pro-life, but actually to sow doubt among a pro-life GOP primary electorate that he was pro-choice. It worked – Riordan lost his primary and Davis won easily against in the general (though he was removed in a special election the next year).