Jillian Bandes

Sen. Jim DeMint endorsed Marco Rubio over Gov. Charlie Crist in the flagship battle for the Republican Senatorial nomination in Florida, bucking the official GOP endorsement of Crist and ignoring polls that show Crist with more than a 30-point lead over the relatively unknown Rubio.

“Rubio is the most impressive conservative leader I have met in a long time, a natural leader with an inspiring personal story and an even more inspiring vision for Florida and America,” DeMint wrote on Fox News.

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This break comes as more and more observers see the primary as a harbinger of future national Republican party politics. The race pits the relatively unknown Rubio against the popular one-term Governor in a battle of underdog Republican conservatism versus popularized, moderate Republicanism.

In his endorsement, DeMint said that polls showing a strong lead for Crist didn’t impact him because DeMint thinks that any Republican who wins the nomination will have a clear shot at winning the general. He also said that Rubio’s inferior fundraising ability wasn’t intimidating, either.

“The number of people around the country I'm connected with who are willing to help Marco with money and getting the word out. The whole country is interested in this race as people look for an alternative to this big-government approach [of President Obama],” DeMint told the St. Petersburg Times.

With 60-percent approval ratings, Crist looks like a sure bet in 2010. But DeMint claimed there was a more important principle at stake.

"For months now, Republicans have been looking around, asking everyone they meet who our next leaders will be. And somehow, inexplicably, many of us have grown blind to the diamonds all around us," DeMint wrote. "There are already many young, conservative leaders ready to fight for freedom in Washington and in state capitals all around the country. But we'll never find them if we only look for well-known politicians or choose our party's direction based on the latest polls instead of timeless principles.”

DeMint is a more conservative Republican, and unafraid of squaring up against more establishment types like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Both McConnell and Cornyn discussed DeMints decision before it was aired, and the three legislators agreed to disagree on the matter of Rubios viability in the primary election. The St. Petersburg Times reported that all of them thought the debate over who is the best candidate was a healthy one.

DeMint was quick to note that he would eventually throw his weight behind whichever Republican won the Florida nomination, even if that person was Crist.


Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com