Yesterday’s New York Times focused attention on Florida’s Republican Senate candidate, Marco Rubio. Tomorrow was supposed to be a high point for the former speaker of the Florida House — the moment he would dispatch his primary opponent Gov. Charlie Crist and ride the momentum into November, the Times’ Jeff Zeleny notes. Instead, Crist opted out of the Republican primary race by becoming an independent, stealing away the media attention and leaving Rubio with the added challenge of running in a three-way general election contest.

Knowing he now faces intense competition for moderate Republicans and independent voters, Rubio is moving slowly but steadily away from a number of tea party doctrines, Zeleny notes, and is attempting to run a campaign based on ideas, not mere obstructionism:

Many voters he came across on his tour were mad, but there was no anger, shouting or hint of irritation from Mr. Rubio as he fielded questions in Pensacola about how he would stop what one woman described as a radical Democratic agenda overtaking America.

“This is our country!” the woman declared from her seat at McGuire’s Irish Pub, looking to Mr. Rubio for affirmation. He nodded and paused a moment.

“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.”

Other blasphemies from Rubio include his opposition to tampering with the 14th Amendment, kind words for President Obama’s personal story, and a somewhat nuanced take on immigration policy. He’s going out of his way to defy categorization alongside Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, and banking that the media attention will return once the general election heats up. In a three-way race, however, rallying one’s base and leaning on party infrastructure to increase turnout at the polls could prove crucial — so Rubio must also be careful of alienating his original tea party boosters.

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