Rubio stays on conservative message

Despite being launched into an early general-election campaign, Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) continued to appeal to his GOP base during a brief trip to Washington on Tuesday.

Rubio arrived Tuesday morning for a one-day swing that included seven fundraising-related events, a lunch with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) — an early backer — and several interviews with reporters.

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In his public comments, Rubio continued to espouse positions that appeal to the GOP base, even though he’s now effectively in a general-election campaign against Gov. Charlie Crist, who announced last week he’s running as an Independent, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D).

Rubio’s message will undoubtedly appeal to conservative donors and grassroots activists. But recent polling has shown he will need to appeal beyond the Republican base in order to win in November. Still, his campaign is confident it can win over independent voters with his conservative message.

“Independent voters overwhelmingly want a check and balance,” Rubio advisers Todd Harris and Heath Thompson wrote in a recent memo. “Marco Rubio’s message will resonate very well with independent voters, while both Crist and Meek will be seen largely as Obama rubber stamps.”

Meanwhile, Crist has moved toward the center of the spectrum, vetoing a measure that would have eliminated tenure for new teachers and instituted merit pay and appearing at groundbreakings for projects funded by the stimulus program.

And Meek has zeroed in on financial reform, which is popular with many seniors who are otherwise disenchanted with the Democrats’ agenda.

Rubio, however, stayed with his conservative message.

During one exchange with reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Rubio continued to express support for offshore oil drilling, which several prominent Republicans have disavowed in light of the disaster unfolding off the coast of Louisiana.

On Monday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) announced he would no longer support a plan to allow new oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara County.

And Crist said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that further offshore exploration “has got to be tabled, for sure.”

But Rubio said that drilling “has to be done in a way that’s safe.”

“I view it from an energy standpoint,” he said.

On the New York City terror incident, Rubio came close to saying that reading Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born American citizen, his Miranda rights was a mistake. “It all depends on how they’re going to try him,” he said.

But he did say it was problematic for a terror suspect to be given constitutional protections.

“Part of the problem with Miranda [rights] is that it prevents you from accessing information,” he said.

Rubio cited a situation in which a terror suspect has information that could prevent a pending attack.

“Nothing should stand in the way of” getting that information from the suspect, he said. “If they stop talking, people can die, so that’s the danger of Miranda [as it relates to terrorism].”

Rubio took a similarly conservative stance on immigration reform — despite trumpeting his family’s immigrant history on the campaign trail. “I would prefer the Obama administration focus on border security,” Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, said.

Regarding Arizona’s new statute mandating that officers check a suspect’s immigration status if they believe he or she is in the country illegally, Rubio refused to say whether he would support a similar law for Florida.

“Florida’s in a different situation; Florida’s not on the border with Mexico,” he said. “It’s not simply an immigration issue.” Rubio called it a “public safety issue.”

“It was inevitable, because the federal government has failed to act,” he said.

A Rasmussen Reports survey of likely voters out Tuesday found Crist earning 38 percent support to Rubio’s 34 and Meek’s 17. The poll, conducted May 3, had 11 percent of respondents as undecided.

The Meek camp released its own assessment of the race, outlining an argument that the relatively unknown congressman has room to grow his support.

“Meek has tremendous room for growth,” wrote Abe Dyk, Meek’s campaign manager. “There are twice as many undecided Democrats as Republicans in the April 15 Quinnipiac Poll. Additionally, in that poll, 73 percent of voters were not familiar enough with Meek to take a favorable or unfavorable view of his candidacy — this provides a tremendous amount of growth, especially among Democrats, 61 percent of whom were not familiar with Meek and are likely to support the Democratic nominee.”

Dyk sounded confident about Meek’s chances.

“A three-way race clearly helps — it puts us in a commanding position,” Dyk told The Hill. He noted that several top Washington Republicans, such as National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), had spent weeks trying to convince Crist not to run as an Independent. “They wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t worried,” Dyk said.

The Crist campaign did not respond to a request for comment.