It didn’t take long for Marco Rubio and his campaign to seize on Chris Matthews’ remarks from yesterday and turn it into an argument over Charlie Crist’s political sympathies.  In a new web ad, Rubio points out that while Crist refuses to this day to declare which party’s caucus he would join if elected, Crist showed no such reticence three months ago when challenged on his loyalties:

The choice of music is classic, both literally and figuratively, for a candidate who keeps dancing on this rather basic point. Crist has to caucus with one of the two parties, or opt to go it alone and lose any influence for his state in committee assignments. Does Crist have a set of principles in mind that will inform that decision, or will he just go with whomever can give him the best deal?

We haven’t heard much from the Rubio campaign lately, and that’s apparently by design. As Crist maintains his position in the polls, however, some have criticized the Rubio campaign for suspending its television and radio campaign in the early summer, allowing Crist to consolidate his position.  The Shark Tank is among those expressing frustration at the strategy:

Crist is on record of saying that he is ‘content’ with the response of the Obama Administration in responding to the spill. Content??Content with the fact that it has taken over two month for Obama to effectively respond to this disaster?

Let us not forget that Governor Crist  has completely flip-flopped his position on offshore oil drilling.  He now opposes drilling and is threatening to hold a special Legislative session in hopes to garner enough votes to prohibit offshore drilling.

Again, why isn’t Rubio ripping him on this?  Crist’s gyrations on the issues present Rubio with a target-rich environment, and yet is not constantly hammering Crist on all his flop-flops and broken promises. …

Time will tell if and when Marco Rubio will put on his trousers and gain back the momentum he has lost over the last couple of months.  It’s fair to say that the momentum he has lost can accurately described as a major ‘buzz kill’- the question is will he regain it?

The strategy may be more clever than Javier Manjarres believes.  Traditionally, few people pay attention to politics in the summer; the media doesn’t call this season “the doldrums” for nothing.  Spending money on advertising while TV viewership declines and voters focus on vacations and family events saps strength and precious funds for only middling benefit.  Plus, the departure of Crist from the primary removed all of the drama of this summer’s contest, and so it’s much less newsworthy and interesting.

Furthermore, Crist has to spend money now in order to raise money, thanks to his switch to independent status and the lack of an organization to support him.  Crist’s campaign will raise less money with a higher burn rate, in all likelihood, which means that Rubio can keep his campaign coffers stuffed.  By the time people are paying attention to the race in September and October, Rubio will have a lot of money to spend, and will use it to blanket the airwaves when people are actually watching television.  Crist presumably won’t be able to keep up at that point and will face a serious disadvantage in the crucial final weeks of the election.

Is there risk in this strategy?  Of course.  Crist could capture more momentum and force Rubio to play catch-up over the final eight weeks of the general election.  But Rubio has done that before anyway — and by that time, Democrats will probably start coming back to Kendrick Meek or Jeff Greene, leaving Crist with no money and minimal support.

Rubio doesn’t need to win this race today.  He needs to win it in November.  He’s employing a rational and wise strategy to make his money count.

Update: Javier makes a good point in a response (same link):

I am offering constructive criticism not about the Rubio campaign’s paid media strategy, but about his earned media strategy, or lack thereof.  Rubio should take a page out of Senator LeMieux’s playbook and do what he is doing except out in the field- off the coast and on the beaches.

I completely agree with that.  Rubio may be focusing on fundraising and building an organization, but there’s no doubt that he has a big opportunity for some earned media coverage in the Gulf.  If he’s missing it, Javier’s right to call him out on it.