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Republican Marco Rubio is anti-Crist challenging Florida governor in Senate primary

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Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio keynoted the Conservative Political Action Conference in at Marriott Wardman Park in Washington D.C. His speech included proposals to fix Washington and fighting terrorism.

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, February 19, 2010

The anti-Crist came to Washington on Thursday. In the ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park, they acted as if he were the Messiah.

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His name: Marco Rubio, the far-right challenger to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in that state's Republican Senate primary. He was the kickoff speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, and he delivered just the message they wanted to hear: anti-taxes, pro Gitmo, anti-Obama, pro-waterboarding.

The 38-year-old Cuban American vowed to fight "every step of the way" against President Obama and Democrats who want to "abandon America's free enterprise economy" and "convert America into a submissive member of the international community."

The audience erupted in cheers of "Marco! Marco!"

"That 'Marco' cheer always worries me, because I'm always afraid that someone is going to starting screaming, 'Polo,' " he joked, referring to the swimming-pool game.

Moments later, he was talking about the need to kill terrorists and capture survivors.

"Waterboard them!" an audience member shouted.

The anti-Crist smiled. "Remember the Marco Polo thing I told you?" His audience howled. "We will get useful information from them," Rubio went on, to more cheers, "and then we will bring them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo!"

The house went wild.

Celebrating the infamous military prison once would have been extraordinary -- even President George W. Bush said he wanted to close it -- but the delight about waterboarding and Gitmo served as a reminder of where the conservative movement has gone.

Rubio and the other CPAC speakers positioned themselves as outsiders to the political establishment -- Rubio derided the "political class," while others condemned the "Washington establishment" and the "political establishment" -- but in reality conservatives have become the political establishment, or at least the Republican establishment.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee describes himself as a "tea partier." Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress have voted with near unanimity against every item Obama has proposed, and even the few moderates remaining have been forced to march in unison out of fear of a conservative primary challenger. The Republican Party has quit the country club for CPAC.


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