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Is Charlie Crist Toast?

The national battle for the soul of the Republican Party has moved from New York’s 23rd congressional district to the Florida U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist is losing ground quickly to an underfunded conservative challenger by the name of Marco Rubio, who is also a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Here’s an assessment of the race by The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza:

“The most important number in politics today: 10. That’s the number of points separating Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in their Republican primary fight for the seat of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez (R), according to a new survey conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal Daily Kos blog.

“Crist leads Rubio 47 percent to 37 percent in the survey, a huge change from January when Crist held a wide 57 percent to 4 percent edge over Rubio (state Attorney General Bill McCollum took 11 percent) in a similar Research 2000 poll. A Quinnipiac University poll released in late October showed a similarly rapid narrowing of Crist’s margin from 29 points in August to just 15 last month.

“That Rubio has made up so much ground without spending any real money on voter contact — television or radio ads, direct mail etc. — should be very worrisome to Crist as it seems to suggest considerable softness in his numbers. In other words, the more Republicans look closely at Crist, the less they like what they see.”

The Club for Growth, a very influential and politically active group of fiscal conservatives, has thrown their support behind Rubio, who’s also a favorite of social conservatives. He was recently featured on the cover of National Review and has landed the keynote slot at next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Granted, Crist still leads by 10 points, but “big mo’ “ is definitely goin’ the other way. This is a race for all conservatives all around the country to keep an eye on.

BTW: Rubio has strong Nevada connections. According to his campaign website, he and his family moved to Las Vegas in 1979 when he was eight years old. His father worked as a bartender at Sam’s Town and his mother was a housekeeper at the Imperial Palace. They moved back to Miami in 1985.