Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, propelled to the Republican nomination by Tea Party support, was elected to the U.S. Senate, the Associated Press projected.
Rubio, 39, defeated both Governor Charlie Crist, 54, running as an independent, and Representative Kendrick Meek, 44, the Democratic nominee. He will succeed George LeMieux, appointed to fill the seat vacated when Republican Mel Martinez resigned in 2009. LeMieux didn’t seek re-election.
Support for Rubio from Tea Party activists and other conservatives such as Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina fueled what began as a long-shot challenge to Crist, who had the support of Republican Party leaders. Crist withdrew from the Republican primary and launched an independent candidacy in April. Meek won the August Democratic primary over billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene.
With 16 percent of the vote counted, Rubio had 50 percent to 29 percent for Crist and 19 percent for Meek.