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The battle for Hispanic voters in the Republican primary is turning ugly, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to tamp down some of the rancor.
Rubio stepped in when Newt Gingrich went so far as to compare Republican rival Mitt Romney with -- prepare yourselves! -- Charlie Crist.
"We discovered last night that Mitt Romney has picked up Charlie Crist's campaign people," said Gingrich at a campaign stop in St. Petersburg on Jan. 24, 2012. "That sort of tells you everything you needed to know about this contest."
Gingrich’s mention of Crist drew yelps and boos from the crowd at the Tick Tock Restaurant. Florida Republicans remember well that Crist left the party in 2010 to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate.
The race between Gingrich and Romney has been inflamed by Spanish-language radio ads, web ads on the Drudge Report website and news reports on the conservative website Newsmax that said Romney was using Crist’s former campaign staff.
Rubio was concerned enough about the attacks that he released a statement the same day. (Rubio has said he will not endorse in the race.)
"Mitt Romney is no Charlie Crist," Rubio said. "Romney is a conservative, and he was one of the first national Republican leaders to endorse me. He came to Florida, campaigned hard for me and made a real difference in my race."
Rubio’s comments caught our attention, because our memory was that Romney endorsed relatively late in the race for U.S. Senate. We decided to dig into the archives to see if Romney was in fact "one of the first national Republican leaders" to endorse Rubio.
To understand the full web of endorsements at work here, we’ll go back to the Republican presidential primary of 2008. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was then challenging U.S. Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the nomination.
In that race, Rubio endorsed Huckabee relatively early, in 2007. (Rubio was then speaker of the Florida House.)
Crist, meanwhile, waited until just before the Florida primary in early 2008 to endorse McCain. McCain beat Romney in Florida and went on to win the nomination.
In 2009, Rubio was widely considered a long-shot against Crist for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Party leadership got behind Crist early that year, while Rubio secured early endorsements from Huckabee and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a tea party favorite.
Rubio built up his campaign through 2009. By spring of 2010, Rubio gained endorsements from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
In March 2010, Romney was on book tour in Florida and was asked regularly about endorsing in the Crist-Rubio race. Romney said several times that he was undecided and generally didn’t endorse in primaries.
By April, though, Crist’s campaign was in serious trouble. Polls showed he would likely lose. Crist further angered Republicans with a veto of a bill limiting teachers tenure on April 15.
The news broke the next day that Romney was endorsing Rubio, and the official endorsement came April 19.
When he made his endorsement, Romney was certain enough of Rubio’s position in the primary that he publicly urged Crist to stay in the Republican Party and accept a loss.
Rubio went on to a decisive victory over Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek.
We contacted representatives for both Romney and Rubio about this fact-check. Rubio’s staff said his comments spoke for themselves. The Romney campaign sent us the following statement:
"Sen. Marco Rubio is an outstanding advocate for fiscal responsibility and a principled voice for conservative values in the United States Senate. Gov. Romney was proud to support Senator Rubio in 2010 and honored to have campaigned with him across Florida."
Rubio said that Romney was "one of the first national Republican leaders to endorse me." Romney did endorse Rubio before Crist dropped out of the primary in 2010. But it was clear at the time that Rubio would have thumped Crist in a primary if Crist hadn’t dropped out.
The main point of Rubio’s comments was to lower the temperature in the Republican race. But it bears noting that Romney’s endorsement of Rubio was something less than a pioneering stand. We rate Rubio’s statement Half True.
Tampa Bay Times, Marco Rubio: Mitt Romney is no Charlie Crist, Jan. 24, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, In St. Pete, Gingrich goes after Obama, Romney -- and Charlie Crist, Jan. 24, 2012
Email interview with Ryan Williams of the Mitt Romney campaign, Jan. 25, 2012
Email interview with Alex Conant of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, Jan. 25, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, Despite Gingrich chatter, Rubio staying on sidelines in presidential primary, Dec. 13, 2011
Tampa Bay Times, Charlie Crist declares independent run for U.S. Senate, April 30, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, Mitt Romney to Charlie Crist: Run as a Republican, or drop out, April 19, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, Gov. Crist vetoes teacher tenure bill, April 16, 2010
The Miami Herald, Rudy Giuliani endorses Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate, April 6, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, Sen. Tom Coburn endorses Marco Rubio, March 31, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, Huckabee endorses Rubio and asks for cash, June 23, 2009
Tampa Bay Times, Jim DeMint endorsing Marco Rubio, June 15, 2009
Tampa Bay Times, John McCain endorses Charlie Crist, May 20, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, Two top Senate Republicans endorse Crist, May 13, 2009, accessed via Nexis
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