Editor's Note: CNN's Jim Acosta takes you inside the Tea Party movement and sits down with those who started it to talk about the factions within the movement and the first ever 'Tea Party Convention.' Tomorrow on American Morning, we'll tell you about a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean where Tea Party protesters sound off on the president.
By Jim Acosta, CNN
For Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist it's the hug that just won't let go.
His embrace of the president and of the stimulus program at a town hall meeting last year could cost this once rising GOP star a shot at a U.S. Senate seat.
Meet Marco Rubio. He's a darling of the Tea Party movement and is challenging Crist for the GOP nomination for that Senate seat.
"What I find at these events are folks who've never been involved in politics before," says Rubio.
Rubio takes his message of smaller government and lower taxes to Tea Party rallies. And his YouTube page features Tea Party activists venting their anger at Washington.
Polls show Rubio has closed a 30 point gap and just might win the party primary.
Would he be the first Tea Party senator if elected?
“It's not a political party," Rubio says. "I'm running as a Republican."
Crist, by contrast, is no Tea Party animal.
For groups like the Tea Party Express there's no contest.
“You wanna know why there's anger with the Republican Party? Republicans embracing massive tax and spend strategies? … That's what Charlie Crist did," says Joe Wierzbicki of the Tea Party Express.
Tea Party groups say millions of independents, Republicans and even some former Democrats are ready to take down some of the biggest names in politics – from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Republican John McCain.
Crist, who has a 50 percent job approval rating, is not backing down from a Tea Party fight. He defends the stimulus as a job saver and notes Rubio has stated he too would have accepted funds from the program.
"About 20,000 teachers would be out of work today in my state. I can't in good conscience look 'em in the eye and say you know you and your family are going to be without a bread winner. People have to eat," says Crist.
He's gambling conservatives will come around.
Defying conventional wisdom in his own party, Crist met President Obama for another stimulus event last week. They shook hands for 27 seconds.
"I think people really want … I think they're honestly kind of tired of the bickering they see coming out of Washington. I think that's part of the change they want to see, it's part of the reason I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I think we need more civility," says Crist.
Tea Party activists have the GOP so worried that some in the party have advocated subjecting Republican candidates to a purity checklist.