[TPM SLIDESHOW: Stranger Than Fiction? TPM Casts The 2010 Midterm Elections]
Since he first emerged as a viable challenger to the then-seen-as-unstoppable Crist back in the early days of the GOP primary, Rubio has inspired a sort of excitement among tea party and mainstream Republicans few other candidates this year have. Rubio has now slayed the establishment pick, Crist, by forcing him out of the Republican primary and into, it seems, political oblivion But Rubio is arguably more popular among all facets of the Republican Party than Crist ever was.
Rubio never really was a tea partier, though his willingness to challenge Crist from the right endeared him to that group and leaders of it like Sen. Jim DeMint. But Rubio leveraged the passion of the tea party into rhetoric that has, quite literally, led mainstream Republicans to consider him possibly headed for an Obama-esque career path.
Make no mistake about it: Rubio is incredibly hot right now, and observers would be wise to see what he does next.
The same can't be said for Crist, who was once himself batted around as a presidential contender. Lamely stumbling across the finish line in a Senate race he was supposed to very easily win a year ago, the future for Crist remains uncertain. He wasn't able to convince enough Democrats to abandon Meek for electability reasons, nor enough Republicans to forsake Rubio for moderate political reasons. That sort of leaves Crist without any friends for the time being.
Meek, on the other hand, is now a national name, mostly for refusing to drop out of the Senate race when Bill Clinton asked him to. The plan was for Meek to leave the race and throw his support to Crist, which would have given Democrats a fighting chance to keep Rubio out of the Senate. That didn't happen, but it's hard to see how Meek carries a lot of the burden for the loss. He stuck to progressive Democratic guns, and now every Democrat in Florida knows who he is. Maybe he's got a future, too.
But for now, the spotlight is on Rubio. Republicans have been talking amongst themselves about how great this guy is for months. Now Rubio gets a chance to state his case to America.
Late Update: Watch Rubio's acceptance speech.