Marco Rubio, a "tea party" movement favorite, was elected to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, easily winning a three-way race that included Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a one-time rising star in the Republican Party.
The victory means a conservative will take over the Senate seat now held by a more moderate Republican. The Senate's division between the major parties won't change, but the GOP will continue its move to the right.
Democrat Kendrick Meek, who ran third, waged what has been a traditional Democratic campaign in this midterm cycle, backing the Obama administration's efforts on economic stimulus, healthcare insurance overhaul and Wall Street regulation. Even though such Democratic stars as former President Clinton campaigned for him, Meek never really was the focus of the three-way race.
In 2008, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez decided to leave his seat after one term. Polls at the time showed that he likely could be reelected.
Gov. Crist was able to choose Martinez's replacement and selected his former aide and campaign manager George LeMieux to take the Senate seat. The wide expectation was that LeMieux was merely a place-holder for Crist, then a very popular governor and possible GOP national candidate.
But Crist had failed to reckon with the popular conservative uprising that became known as the tea party movement. Conservatives in Florida were especially irate at Crist and his moderate views, and targeted the governor, who was expected to be in a primary against Rubio, a former speaker of the Florida House.
Reading the political tea leaves, Crist skipped the GOP primary, which polls showed he could not win, and decided to run as an independent.
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