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U.S. Chamber backs Rubio in Florida

Marco Rubio
Republican Senate hopeful Marco Rubio has won the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Chris O'Meara / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing Marco Rubio's bid for the Senate, pledging to help the tea party-favored candidate emerge from a tight three-way race in Florida.

The organization plans a Saturday rally in Orlando to announce Rubio, a former state House speaker, as its latest candidate to benefit from some $75 million the business group plans to spend on political campaigns this fall. The organization declined to detail how it would help Rubio but it is already airing ads aggressive against Democratic Senate candidates in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Chamber political director Bill Miller said his group will "make sure people in Florida understand that there is one candidate who has been a consistent supporter of the business community and Marco Rubio is the candidate who can bring the principles of a free enterprise system to Washington."

The endorsement comes as Rubio, a surprise candidate who forced Gov. Charlie Crist to abandon his campaign for the Republican Party's nomination in the race and is instead running as an independent, reported some $4.4 million in campaign cash. Crist, who lost GOP backing over his kind words for Democratic President Barack Obama, reported $7.6 million in his campaign account.

Rubio remains locked in a tight race with Crist and his potential Democratic opponents. Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek and billionaire Jeff Greene are vying for their party's nomination in the Aug. 24 primary; both are within striking distance of Rubio in hypothetical polls.

"July polling will be irrelevant in October," Rubio said during an interview before turning back to his pro-business message.

"The central issue of this campaign is how we can grow this economy and put people back to work," Rubio said, trying to keep hammering Crist's tenure as governor.

"We have the most pro-business agenda in the race. We are the only campaign in the race with a fundamental understanding what it takes."

Florida's economy has continued to suffer, with more than a million workers jobless last month. The state posted an 11.4 percent unemployment rate, a number certain to tick upward when federal economic stimulus dollars run out.

Miller had strong praise for Rubio's time in the state legislature and said he was a proven supporter of chamber priorities.

"The bottom line is, the guy was a champion in the Florida legislature for the Florida business community," Miller said.