[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/09/art.rubio1.gi.jpg caption="The Club For Growth officially backed Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate race."]
(CNN) - The conservative Club For Growth formally endorsed former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio Monday over the Republican Party's choice of current Gov. Charlie Crist in that state's Senate primary race, setting the stage for what again could be a bitter intra-party battle within the GOP.
"Marco Rubio is the real deal, one of the brightest young stars in American politics today, and a proven champion of economic liberty," Club President Chris Chocola said in a statement. "He is a dynamic spokesman for the principles of limited government and economic freedom, and he will make a fantastic senator."
The endorsement is not surprising, especially after The group launched a television ad last week attacking Crist for claiming recently on CNN he did not endorse President Obama's stimulus measure back in February. In fact, Crist did attend a rally with the president during which he hailed the measure as one that will "reignit[e] the economy."
"Charlie Crist has repeatedly joined with big government liberals on major economic issues facing America today, from taxes to spending to cap-and-trade," Chocola said. "He represents the wrong direction for our economy and our nation."
The endorsement comes weeks after The Club spent upwards of $1 million in a special New York congressional election on behalf of a third-party conservative over the Republican Party-backed candidate. When the Democrat ultimately won what had been a longtime reliably Republican district, those conservatives faced fire from some in the GOP for language that seemed to push moderates away.
Chocola said Monday electability wouldn't be an issue in the Florida race. His organization has spent months studying the Florida race, he said, and has determined either Crist or Rubio has a good chance of beating potential Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek in a general election.
"The only question now is what kind of Republican will Florida send to Washington next year: a pro-growth Republican with a record of fiscal conservatism or a big-government Republican with a record of tax increases?" Chocola said.