"Marco Rubio is the real deal, one of the brightest young stars in American politics today, and a proven champion of economic liberty," said the group's president, Chris Chocola.
The endorsement is a boon for Rubio, who is seeking to close a major fundraising gap against Crist. The governor's support for President Obama's economic stimulus package outraged fiscal conservatives, and the decision by the Club For Growth to offer its backing is a signal from the powerful group that he should be treated as a viable candidate.
"The Club for Growth PAC has spent months studying this race, and we have concluded that either Charlie Crist or Marco Rubio would be heavily favored to win next November against likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek," said Chocola. "The only question now is what kind of Republican will Florida send to Washington next year: a pro-growth Republican with a record of fiscal conservatism or a big-government Republican with a record of tax increases?"
I interviewed Rubio this morning for a forthcoming article on the race. He was sharply critical of Crist both for backing the stimulus bill and for suggesting in a recent interview that he didn't actually "endorse" the legislation.
"I think it's part of a broader problem in American politics, and that is people who will say or do anything in order to win an election…including lie about their record," Rubio said in the interview.
Rubio said that he has had a hard time fundraising because the establishment GOP has backed the more moderate Crist. "It doesn't help when you've got prominent senators and people like that calling donors and asking them to stay out of the race," he told me.
You can be sure he'll be pointing to the Club For Growth endorsement as he tries to convince those donors not to listen to that advice.