From NBC's Ali Weinberg
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican Marco Rubio today in Florida's competitive three-way Senate race.
Speaking to a group of bloggers on a conference call, Bill Miller, the political director of the pro-business group, praised Rubio's "appreciation for free enterprise," adding that he's "not just talked the talk but walked the walk" espousing fiscally conservative principles as a member of Florida's state legislature.
Miller would not specify how the Chamber, which has reportedly said it will spend up to $75 million on the midterms, would assist the Rubio campaign. Leaders from the group will go to Orlando tomorrow to stump for Rubio at a rally.
Rubio, also on the call, said he was "proud of the endorsement and grateful" for the Chamber's support. While there are many points of agreement between Rubio and the Chamber, including extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the two diverge on one issue especially salient with Floridian voters: a trade embargo with Cuba.
While the Chamber has worked to end the embargo, last year calling it "one of the biggest foreign policy failures of the past half century," Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, opposes lifting the ban before Cubans have political freedom.
"We want Cuba to have a government and political system that respects their inalienable rights," Rubio said. "They don't have that right now. Having this economic sanction against Cuba gives us leverage" so America has a bargaining chip to negotiate "on behalf of the Cuban people," he added.
"I think we do have a difference of opinion," Rubio said, adding that he is prepared to disagree on many topics with his colleagues in Washington if elected.
Miller said their divergence was a respectful disagreement. "At the end of the day there are so many common issues," Miller said. "The things Marco believes in are exactly the kind of things we as a country need," he added.
A reporter on the call noted how Rubio has seemingly shifted from running as a conservative alternative to then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to a more traditional candidate after Crist's decision to run as an independent. Rubio countered that while the circumstances of the race have changed, his beliefs have not.
"My ideas are no different than when I first got in this race," he said. "A lot of things have changed since then," he added, pointing to the "establishment's" initial endorsement of Crist before he became an independent.
"Folks are buying into our agenda, what we stand for," he said. "A year ago, many in the leadership of my party weren't ready to embrace that. They thought the way to be re-elected was to behave more like the Democrats. We now realize that we already have a Democratic party in America and we don't need two," he said.
Rubio was also asked about Crist's call for a special session in the Florida legislature to put an amendment for a Florida offshore drilling moratorium on November's ballot.
He said he didn't think there was "any doubt" that the call for a special session was a "stunt," noting that offshore drilling in Florida is already banned by statute.
"Nobody's asking for a lifting of that ban at this point," Rubio said, adding that Crist's move was motivated by his "desire to continue a storyline."