WASHINGTON -- Republican Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday slapped down rumors that he might run as an independent in this fall's Senate race in Florida, and ripped his opponent Marco Rubio's alleged ties to special interests.
A Rasmussen poll released Monday found Crist trailing his Republican primary opponent, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, by 12 points. The poll has been widely cited as a troubling sign for the governor, fueling speculation that he might ditch his GOP label.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reacted to the poll by saying "Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) best path to victory would be to run as an independent for office this fall."
"There's no truth to those rumors at all," Crist's communications director Andrea Saul told Raw Story. "Governor Crist will absolutely run as a Republican."
"Voters will see that he's a public servant, he does what he thinks is best for Florida -- as opposed to speaker Rubio, a Miami lobbyist who made about $1.6 million representing special interests in his time in the House."
The St. Petersburg Times recently reported that Rubio "was a Miami-Dade County lobbyist from 1997 (when he was a West Miami Commissioner) until 2005" and earned an annual salary of $300,000 from his firm, Broad & Cassel, by the end of his tenure.
"His campaign has consistently tried to hide that, and act like he doesn't have such a record," Saul said. "Just today they launched a 'Truth Squad' to proactively combat Crist's attacks. Well, we're at a stage where it's very important for voters to learn more about Speaker Rubio's record."
Rubio's spokesman Alex Burgos denied his boss was a lobbyist, telling the St. Petersburg Times he was merely one of many "lawyers representing clients."
Rumors that Crist might exit the Republican Party are not new, but Saul said they've mostly been manufactured by Rubio in the past.
"Literally every couple of weeks, the Rubio folks start the rumor that we're dropping out, or that we're going to run as a Democrat, or that we're going to run as an independent," Saul said.
Now, with Rubio's surge in the polls, it's a different ballgame, with analysts from all over the spectrum suggesting Crist's primary troubles could be real.
The Crist campaign doesn't appear fazed. "We're confident that at the end of the day, voters will choose Charlie Crist," Saul said.
Although the winner faces a battle in the general election, all eyes are on the Republican primary, as polls have found both Crist and Rubio hold comfortable leads over the Democratic primary favorite, Florida State Rep. Kendrick Meek.
Rubio is highly popular with the Tea Party crowd, which is energized after boosting Senator-elect Scott Brown to victory in Massachusetts and helping topple Democratic governors in Virginia and New Jersey in November.
The Washington Independent's David Weigel said the Tea Partiers have helped "[turn] Rubio into the sudden frontrunner for a race he was encouraged to drop out of."
Rubio's campaign did not respond to a request for comment by Raw Story.
"Crist might be better off...saving his war chest for a 2012 run against Democratic senator Bill Nelson," the conservative Weekly Standard's John McCormack quipped.