Fla. Christian Coalition head Baxley quits to endorse Rubio

In case anyone was wondering just how socially conservative U.S. Senate Candidate Marco Rubio is.....
During his time in the legislature, Baxley served as chair of the House Education Committee and was one of the top opponents to protecting LGBT students from bullying and harassment.

Fla. Christian Coalition head Baxley quits to endorse Rubio

By Bill Thompson
Staff writer, Gainesville Sun

Dennis Baxley, a leading voice for social conservatives in Florida and formerly a major powerbroker in the state House of Representatives, has endorsed Marco Rubio for senator.

But Baxley is not just verbally throwing his political clout behind Rubio's bid to defeat Gov. Charlie Crist as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010. He's taking an active campaign role.

As of June 1, Baxley resigned his position as executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, which he had headed for 18 months, to promote Rubio's campaign.

"Our nation is at a crossroads and we are in a battle for the soul of our Republican Party and our nation. Marco Rubio is at the very tipping point of this defining hour," Baxley said in a statement released last week.

"This campaign is really about our freedom and the core values of our nation that offer hope for the whole world. What better way to reach out to young voters and voters of various ethnic origins than to elevate a bright, young, Hispanic leader to the United States Senate?"

Crist's spokesmen could not be reached for comment. Rubio's strategists, however, welcomed Baxley's kudos.

"He is a longtime supporter of Marco's and we are pleased and honored to have Dennis Baxley's support," said Brian Seitchik, Rubio's campaign manager.

"We hope Dennis will encourage others to volunteer to join a growing grassroots movement to send Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate."

Baxley's endorsement is not all that surprising.

Baxley, owner of an Ocala-based funeral home business, spent seven years in the Legislature before losing a bid in 2007 for the state Senate.

He was speaker pro tem, the No. 2 post in the House, when Rubio served as House speaker.

Baxley also supported and campaigned for Tom Gallagher, the state's former chief financial officer and Crist's opponent for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2006.

In that campaign, Baxley openly argued that Crist was too liberal to represent the Republican Party.

He co-authored an opinion article, which appeared in the Star-Banner that year, critical of Crist for having a soft anti-abortion record as a state lawmaker, for supporting the expansion of gambling and, as state attorney general under former Gov. Jeb Bush, for not fighting vigorously to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

Baxley apparently will keep with the Crist-is-too-liberal theme in backing Rubio, who represented West Miami in the Legislature.

"Marco Rubio has lived out the principles of less government, lower taxes, more personal responsibility, more individual freedom to succeed, and the empowerment of families," Baxley continued in his statement.

"He has upheld the value of the traditional family as the cornerstone of our civilization and has demonstrated his respect for the sanctity of every human life, the free expression of religious free speech, and the compassion for liberty and justice for all."

While the primary election is more than year away, a new public opinion poll suggests Rubio and Baxley have their work cut out for them.

USA Today recently reported that Crist holds a 59-22 lead over Rubio among GOP voters. Furthermore, the paper noted, the number-crunching Web site www.fivethirtyeight.com rates Crist the second-most popular governor in America.

Baxley said in an interview that he will not be paid by the Rubio campaign, nor have an official role or title. He had to leave the Christian Coalition to help Rubio, he said, because the group's policy does not allow for formally endorsing political candidates.

Bill Thompson can be reached at 867-4117.


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