Not every Tea Party candidate is going to be successful, even in Republican primaries. In fact, most of them will lose, owing to a lack of funds or an inability to connect with the electorate. But Marco Rubio has a variety of factors going for him – an attractive candidate in a party trending to the right against a moderate Governor in a depressed state. He’s also effectively nationalized the race, making him able to secure funds from around the country. All of that has added up to Rubio passing Charlie Crist in the latest Florida Senate poll.

For the first time, a new poll shows that Gov. Charlie Crist is losing to former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in Florida’s nationally watched Republican U.S. Senate race.

Rubio leads by just 3 percentage points — 47-44 — and is well within the error margin of the Quinnipiac University poll. Yet the trend of Rubio’s rise and Crist’s fall is stark. In October, Crist led 50 – 35 percent. In August, Crist’s lead was even bigger (55 – 26) and in June the race looked like Crist would blow out Rubio by 54 – 23 percent.

“Who would have thunk it? A former state lawmaker virtually unknown outside of his South Florida home whose challenge to an exceedingly popular sitting governor for a U.S. Senate nomination had many insiders scratching their heads. He enters the race 31 points behind and seven months later sneaks into the lead,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The Kendrick Meek campaign clearly thinks that a hard-right conservative will be a better target than a moderate Governor with friends across the political aisle. But Rubio has generally polled ahead of Meek as well, and this poll is no different – Meek trails Rubio 44-35, and Crist 48-36. Generally, that’s a function of name ID – the primary has taken up all the oxygen, and nobody in Florida knows who Meek is (seriously, 3/4 of voters have no opinion of him).

As for Crist, frankly this is the best he’ll poll between now and primary day. The Tea Party is poised to collect a scalp here.

UPDATE: Clearly, the perfect idea for Crist to revive his candidacy in a closed Republican Senate primary is to appear onstage with Barack Obama again.

David Dayen

David Dayen