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Sparring over who's BFF with Marco Rubio

The biggest issue in the state Senate battle between Republicans Julio Robaina and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is not the economy, healthcare or education.

It's who is closer to U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio.

Robaina and Diaz de la Portilla are fiercely competing over who has stronger ties to Rubio, a candidate who has attained celebrity status in the GOP, while distancing themselves from Gov. Charlie Crist, who ditched the party three months ago to salvage his U.S. Senate bid.

Voters in state Senate District 36, which stretches from Cutler Bay to Allapattah, should be forgiven if they are confused about which names will appear on their Aug. 24 ballot. Diaz de la Portilla has been hammering his support for Rubio and Robaina's ties to Crist in a deluge of automated calls, mailers and radio ads in recent weeks.

"Rep. Julio Robaina supports Charlie Crist,'' he says in a paid radio segment. "He did everything possible . . . to saw the floor from under Marco Rubio.''

Robaina, who said he withdrew his support for Crist when he left the GOP, countered with a spot narrated by radio talk show host Martha Flores: "Julio Robaina was one of the sponsors for Marco Rubio to be named president of the Florida House of Representatives.''

Name-dropping is not unique to the state Senate race this election season. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum mentioned support from U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American, four times during a recent hourlong debate aimed at a Hispanic audience.

But no other contest in 2010 has been so markedly shaped by the rift in the Republican Party left by Crist's defection and his rivalry with Rubio. Full story here.