Rubio Leads In Florida

Marco Rubio has been gaining ground on Gov. Charlie Crist (R) ever since the Florida Senate primary began, unofficially, last May. And now, he's finally done it: Rubio leads Crist for the first time.

Quinnipiac released a poll today showing Rubio ahead of Crist 47 percent to 44 percent.

Both of them lead the Democratic candidate, Rep. Kendrick Meek, by at least nine points.

This is a major development in public polling on the Florida Senate race, as Crist had led substantially--by at least 10 points--in all but one major poll up until this point. One poll, released in mid-December, showed Crist and Rubio tied; but that poll was taken by Rasmussen, a favorite pollster of the right, and less than a month earlier Research2000 had shown Crist ahead by 10 points.

But Quinnipiac is a reputable firm that uses live interviewers and doesn't have the news-angle flair that Rasmussen does.

Crist has long been established as the frontrunner in this race; he's a political heavyweight in Florida with a broad base of support, and observers didn't expect Rubio to make much of a dent against him. But Rubio has been a conservative darling, gaining attention on the national stage as a showcase candidate for conservatives in 2010.

Hotline OnCall's Reid Wilson points out that Crist, who has millions in his war chest, will probably start airing TV ads early this year if the trend continues.

If Rubio beats Crist, it will have implications far outside of Florida: a national base of conservatives will be energized and re-invested in the viability of conservative Republican candidates.