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Politics

Marco Rubio Still Popular with Florida GOP Despite Immigration Reform

July 7, 2013 - 6:00pm

As he leads the fight for immigration reform, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is drawing the fire of some members of the tea party.

In an article for the Daily Beast published on Monday, Patricia Murphy offered a look at tea party anger directed at Rubio. She relies heavily on quotes from two Florida members of the tea party movement: Everett Wilkinson, who is now the chairman of the National Liberty Federation, and Miami Republican activist Juan Fiol.

The feedback Ive received is that people are extremely upset with Marco, Wilkinson told Murphy. Tea party members who were active with us and helped get Marco elected -- several have said theyre no longer going to support him.

While the tea party movement in Florida was a big winner in the 2010 elections, Wilkinson did not do quite so well when the smoke cleared. While he did back Rubio over Charlie Crist in the Senate election, Wilkinson, then the leader of the South Florida Tea Party, was a supporter of Bill McCollum, who had been in Florida politics for more than 30 years, over political newcomer Rick Scott in the gubernatorial contest. In fact, Wilkinson accompanied McCollum when he filed his papers to run. With his aggressive tactics against Scott, Wilkinson lost much favor with the tea party during the 2010 election cycle. Scott was generally seen as more conservative than McCollum on immigration during the primary and often attacked his primary rival from the right on the issue.

Despite backing Rubio in 2010, Fiol has been leading protests against the senators office in South Florida over the immigration bill. Fiol told Murphy that Rubio will be facing a primary challenge come 2016 and is losing supporters.

His own volunteers are turning against him. Hes in a lot of trouble, Fiol told Murphy. I am a Republican, but I do not identify with Rubio anymore. He could have been our savior, and hes the nail in our coffin.

Rubio lost his own people and he doesnt even realize it, Fiol told Murphy. Hes not going to make it past his primary as senator, let alone president. Hes in for a big surprise.

Fiol made an unsuccessful bid to serve on the Miami-Dade County Commission, losing out to Juan Zapada. While he might not have won the election, Fiol does seem to have a tendency to get included in national stories on Florida politics.

While Fiol, and to a lesser extent Wilkinson, can vent their spleen at Rubio on immigration, Florida Republicans continue to support the senator. Murphy cites a poll taken by Quinnipiac showing Florida voters back immigration reform. The same poll shows Rubio in amazing shape with Florida Republicans with 81 percent holding favorable views of him and only 5 percent seeing him as unfavorable.

Despite the grumblings of Fiol and Wilkinson, Rubio remains extremely secure with Florida Republicans. To be sure a lot can happen in three years and Florida politicians can rise and fall in the blink of an eye. Just ask Bill McCollum and Charlie Crist about 2010. But Rubio is in far better shape with Florida Republicans than either McCollum or Crist were and he is much more prominent on the national level, especially as it appears he will run for the presidency in 2016.

Conservatives can certainly ding Rubio on immigration reform but he continues to fight alongside them on other issues, including repealing the federal health-care law and banning abortions after 20 weeks. Rubio could certainly be vulnerable against a conservative in the presidential primaries but he is a very heavy favorite to win the Republican Senate nomination in 2016 -- despite what a handful of activists are insisting.


Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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