Alex Leary and Beth Reinhard of the Times/Herald report on how Sen.-elect Marco Rubio was able to draw tea party support without the stigma of being a “tea party candidate”:

When a French TV station set out to understand the American phenomenon known as the tea party, it sent a reporter overseas to Florida, down a dusty country road, past a bug-swarmed pond, and into a Pasco County pasture filled with people waving American flags.

It was Oct. 30, three days before Election Day. The crowd had come to Hallelujah Acres Ranch to hear Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio, frequently hailed — and claimed — as one of the tea party’s biggest success stories.

But the typically unflappable candidate seemed uncomfortable with the French reporter’s questions about his tea party ties, as he did when an admirer asked him to autograph a tea party banner.

If the tea party is expecting Rubio to plant its yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag in the hallowed Senate chamber, it’s in for a letdown. This career politician who once carried the state party’s American Express card defines himself first and foremost as a Republican.

Rubio was able to distance himself from the tea party in part because he’s a much more tactful politician, and he ran a ruthlessly on-message campaign compared with other tea party favorites who lost because of extreme comments they made. He also faced an establishment candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist (dubbed by conservatives as a RINO, “Republican in name only”), who had already been endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Party of Florida. The tea party/Red State/Republican grassroots activists despise Republicans endorsing in primaries.

Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle had a sit-down with self-proclaimed “Tea Party” candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada, Scott Ashjian, in attempt to pressure him from the race, and mentioned several Republican candidates (Joe Miller, Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell) who were “real” tea party candidates. Marco Rubio was not of them. She added dismissively, “Possibly Marco Rubio is real, but that’s a stretch for me.”

Now, Senate candidates Angle, Buck, Miller (likely) and O’Donnell are all now unemployed, and Rubio won his race by 19 points.

Luke Johnson reports on Florida for The American Independent.

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