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Republican nominee for Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (C) is surrounded by his family and friends during his "Reclaim America Victory Celebration" at the Biltmore Hotel on November 2, 2010 in Coral Gables, Florida. Results show that Rubio has clinched the Florida Senate seat against his opponents, Independent candidate and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic candidate Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL).Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida figures in most every U.S. election. This time, the state's voters have made themselves felt on the national political scene by electing what many expect to be the next Republican star.

Marco Rubio, the 39-year-old former speaker of Florida's state House, beat a former governor and a sitting congressman to claim a seat in the Senate.

Mr. Rubio is a political upstart who used the backing of the Tea Party movement to claim the Republican nomination virtually unopposed. So strong was Mr. Rubio's surge that Charlie Crist, who resigned as Florida's governor as the presumptive favourite to run for the Republicans, pulled out of the race and ran as an independent.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush took Mr. Rubio under his wing and introduced him at the newly elected senator's victory speech.

Unlike fellow political outsider Rand Paul, who won a Senate seat for the Republicans in Kentucky, Mr. Rubio avoided mentioning the Tea Party in his victory speech. He did position himself as someone different, telling his supporters that the Republican Party would be making a mistake if it interpreted Tuesday's results as an unconditional endorsement.

"What they are is a second chance, a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be, not so long ago," Mr. Rubio said. "Our nation is heading in the wrong direction and both parties are to blame."

As the son of parents exiled from Castro's Cuba, Mr. Rubio's success caught the attention of prominent figures in a party that has struggled to win the support of Latin Americans. He made the cover of the National Review, a prominent conservative magazine, and received rave reviews from the likes of Karl Rove, who was George W. Bush's chief political strategist, and Rush Limbaugh, the popular talk-radio host.

Mr. Rubio has little experience outside government. Not long after graduating from the University of Miami Law School, he jumped into municipal politics. He won his first term in the Florida House of Representatives in 2000 and became speaker in 2006. He was the youngest person and first Hispanic to hold that position.

But Mr. Rubio talked little about his public service during his campaign, instead concentrating on his conservative bona fides, promising that he will insist on fiscal discipline in Washington.

By contrast, Mr. Crist sought to pull voters by concentrating on his record as a moderate who is more interested in policy than partisan bickering. That strategy failed as Mr. Rubio and the Democratic challenger, Kendrick Meek, were able to paint Mr. Crist as an opportunist.

The three-way race made the contest for Florida's open Senate seat one of the most watched of the midterm campaign. Candidates spent more than $30-million (U.S.) trying to win the seat, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics.

Some will argue that Mr. Rubio might have been less successful if his two opponents hadn't split the vote against his Tea Party-inspired message. A week before Tuesday's vote, word leaked out that former president Bill Clinton asked Mr. Meek to stand aside so that Mr. Crist would stand a better chance against Mr. Rubio. Mr. Meek declined.

Floridians were clearly in a mood to reject anyone tied to governing during one of worst economies in American history. The state's unemployment rate is 10.5 per cent, among the highest in the country. Despite that, the St. Petersburg Times had endorsed Mr. Crist, calling Mr. Rubio's partisanship "exactly what Florida and the nation does not need." Voters disagreed.