Front-runner in Florida Senate race called extremist

* Florida governor defends independent bid for Senate

* Says front-runner Marco Rubio represents “intolerance”

* Miami Herald backs Rubio on “fiscal restraint” grounds

MIAMI, Oct 24 (BestGrowthStock) – Florida Governor Charlie Crist
attacked Republican Marco Rubio, the front-runner in the race
for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, saying on Sunday he held
“extreme views” in a party that has swung too far to the
right.

Rubio, a Cuban-American and former state House speaker from
Miami, has built up a commanding lead in the three-way contest
that pits him against Crist, a former Republican now running as
an independent, and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek in the
Nov. 2 congressional election.

An Ipsos poll published in the Miami Herald on Sunday
showed 41 percent of likely voters supporting Rubio compared to
26 percent for Crist and 20 percent for Meek.

Many pundits have said Crist, 54 and a lifelong Republican
until he broke with the party this year, would be competitive
in a two-way race between him and Rubio. But Rubio has
solidified his lead in a state hard hit by record-high
unemployment and the U.S. housing crisis.

Public discontent with President Barack Obama and the
ailing U.S. economy has swept Republicans into position to gain
control of the U.S. House of Representatives and perhaps even
pick up the 10 Democratic seats they need for a Senate
majority.

The contest in Florida, an influential swing state, could
help decide the balance of power in Washington. The seat Rubio
looks almost certain to win was previously held by Republican
Mel Martinez, who resigned from the Senate for personal reasons
in August 2009. Crist appointed Republican George LeMieux as
the successor to Martinez for the remaining year and a half of
the Senate term.

Like other Republicans, Rubio has sought to make the vote a
mandate on what he has branded the failed economic policies of
Obama.

TRYING TO NARROW LEAD

Crist sought to narrow that lead, and galvanize his
standing among independents, by saying in a debate with Rubio
and Meek moderated by CNN on Sunday that he broke ranks with
Republicans because the party had moved too far to the right.

He fervently denied leaving the party because Rubio, a
favorite of the anti-Washington Tea Party movement, was sure to
beat him in the Republican primary two months ago.

“The Republican Party and the right wing of that party went
so far right; it’s exactly why Marco Rubio stayed there and
exactly the same reason that I left,” Crist said.

Though he said he shares Rubio’s views on some issues,
Crist said his opponent also held “extreme views that I’m not
comfortable with” including his stance on abortion rights and
stemcell research.

“He took it to a point, so much so, that (he) said that you
know people who essentially don’t agree with him ought to leave
the country … That’s unconscionable to me,” Crist said.

“The (Republican) party represents those kind of views and
that kind of intolerance,” he said.

He did not elaborate. But Crist’s remarks about Rubio
wanting some people, such as liberal TV commentator Keith
Olbermann, to leave the country, were an apparent response to a
joke Rubio told months ago.

In the debate, Crist also sought to attack Rubio for
personal finance issues including his alleged failure to
release all statements linked to a Republican Party credit card
that he used when he was leader in the Florida House.

Rubio denied any wrongdoing, however, as he appeared to
bask in Sunday’s endorsement of him in the Miami Herald, which
highlighted his “straight talk about attacking the
stratospheric federal budget deficit.”

Rubio was not flawless, the newspaper said, citing his
“far-right stance” on immigration and healthcare reform.

But it said Rubio, 39, had shown a passion to fix some of
the things that are wrong with Washington and offered “a
welcome dose of fiscal restraint” at a critical time in the
nation’s economy.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Front-runner in Florida Senate race called extremist