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Can Tea Party Darling Marco Rubio Soften His Rhetoric Enough to Get Elected?

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This post originally appeared on Think Progress.

For the past year, Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio has been the model tea party candidate, receiving one of the first endorsements from Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Senate Conservatives Fund (DeMint has called Rubio “the most impressive conservative leader I have met in a long time.”) Rubio has raised more money from the movement than any of his fellow tea party-backed candidates. But after his challenger, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I), decided to run as an independent instead of as a Republican, Rubio has been “breaking with some Tea Party orthodoxy” in order to win over moderate voters that might now side with Crist, the New York Times reports. In an interview, Rubio’s rhetoric was noticeably tamer than in the past:

The solution isn’t just to paralyze government,” Mr. Rubio said in an interview as he traveled the state last week from here in the Panhandle to Miami. “Vote for us because you couldn’t possibly vote for them? That’s not enough. It may win some seats, but it won’t take you where you want to be.” [...]

I am not running for the United States Senate because I want to be the opposition to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid,” he replied in a measured tone. “I’m running for Senate because I want to create an alternative.” [...]

Does anything impress him about President Obama?

Yeah, there’s a lot,” Mr. Rubio said. “Obviously his personal story of someone who didn’t come from wealth is a testament not just to his tenacity, but to America. I just strongly disagree with him on public policy.”

Rubio also “ did not agree with flashpoints Republican candidates elsewhere have seized on.” He said he doesn’t “want Arizona to serve as a model for other states” when it comes to immigration, and said advocating for changing the 14th Amendment, as many Republicans have, “is frankly is not the highest and best use of our political attention.” When asked for his own views on immigration, Rubio broke with his party’s absolutist sloganeering on the issue, saying his position “doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker so bear with me,” before launching into an eight-minute explanation.

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