Republican Marco Rubio captured the second US Senate seat of the night for the conservative Tea Party movement when he beat out his rivals in a three-way race in Florida, US media predicted.
Rubio defeated Republican Governor Charlie Crist running as an independent and Democratic rival Kendrick Meek to win 50 percent of the vote and hold onto the seat for Republicans, CNN and Fox said, citing exit polls.
Crist was said to have garnered some 29 percent of the vote, and Meek 20 percent, the polls said.
Rubio, 39, is a Hispanic rising star in US politics even though some have found it hard to square his personal story and his very conservative views.
Many Hispanics were aghast at his support for Arizona’s tough immigration law, which critics say encourages ethnic profiling and discrimination by US authorities.
Passed in April, it has provisions that include requiring police to question a person about his or her immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the United States illegally.
And Rubio, whose parents came to the United States from Cuba, opposes giving federal benefits to illegal immigrants and giving US citizenship to the US-born children of undocumented people.
Still, “I am the only candidate who understands Hispanics,” Rubio told AFP this month. “People who criticize me do not understand that for this community, economic progress is the top issue, and what any parent wants for their children is for them to do better than they did.”
Born in Miami and a former resident of Las Vegas, Rubio moved effortlessly from English to Spanish on the campaign trail.
He bumped Crist out of the contest for the Republican nomination, forcing him to leave the party and run as an independent. He also made off with a lot of the biggest and most influential conservative campaign donors.
Rubio is widely seen as a potential Republican star for a national ticket given the party’s interest in reaching out to younger and to Hispanic voters.