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Rubio On The Rise

By KEN THOMAS, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Marco Rubio is taking center stage as Republicans search for a new leader.

In the nearly 100 days since President Barack Obama won a second term, the Florida senator has made calculated, concrete steps to emerge as a next-generation leader of a rudderless party, put a 21st-century stamp on the conservative movement and potentially position himself for a presidential run.

The bilingual Cuban-American lawmaker has become Republicans' point person on immigration and he pitches economic solutions for middle-class workers. He is an evangelist for a modern, inclusive party that welcomes more Hispanics and minorities, but says Republicans must stay true to their principles.

"In a way, he's trying to save us from ourselves," says Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who gave Rubio his first job in politics, as a South Florida field staffer during Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. "He gives us comfort against the naysayers who say we need to change our basic beliefs to attract a wider audience."

Rubio will give the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday. Rubio advisers say his rebuttal will offer economic prescriptions for a sluggish economy and try to counter what they call Obama's government-centered economic approach.

The speech comes as demand for the 41-year-old son of immigrants has soared and the party has tried to recover from significant electoral losses and map out a path ahead.

Call it the "it" factor. Time magazine just splashed Rubio on its cover, anointing him "The Republican Savior." Rubio, a Catholic, responded on Twitter: "There is only one savior, and it is not me. (hash)Jesus". He shrugged off the label during an interview with The Associated Press: "I didn't write the cover. I wouldn't have said it if I wrote it."

"There are no saviors in politics," he said.

The former Florida House speaker has been on a Republican rocket ship since 2010, when he knocked off Gov. Charlie Crist in a Senate race that showed the tea party's clout. He introduced presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention last year and attended dozens of rallies and fundraisers for the GOP ticket during the campaign.

His rise draws comparisons to Obama, who moved from Illinois senator-elect to Democratic presidential nominee within four years. Both win accolades for their oratory skills and sought a lower profile at the start of their Senate careers.

Like Obama did for the Democrats, Rubio evokes a new generation for Republicans, as comfortable talking about hip-hop music as health care. In a recent interview with the online news organization BuzzFeed, he discussed at length the rap music of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., something that would have been unimaginable coming from Romney.

Since November's pummeling, Rubio has taken a series of public and private steps to raise his already high profile and create the political, organizational and message framework he'd need should he decide to seek the White House.

On election night, Rubio promoted "upward mobility policies" and counseled Republicans to renew their pitch to people from minority and immigrant communities. He made a quick trip to Iowa in mid-November for GOP Gov. Terry Branstad's birthday party, which placed him before influential party activists in the important electoral state. Branstad lauded Rubio as the "kind of inspirational leader that's going to help point us in the right direction."

In December, Rubio said Republicans needed to attract voters from all economic backgrounds, invoking his late father, who worked as a hotel bartender. People like that are not "looking for a handout" but conditions to help them reach the middle class, Rubio said at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner.

Behind the scenes, Rubio has bolstered his political action committee, Reclaim America PAC, to help him raise money, elect fellow Republicans and essentially create a campaign-in-waiting. Terry Sullivan, a trusted aide with deep ties to the early primary state of South Carolina, has moved over to work full time at the organization, and Rubio hired Dorinda Moss, a leading GOP fundraiser, to be its finance director.

Rubio, who took hard-line positions on immigration policy such as branding Sen. John McCain's proposal in 2010 a form of amnesty, has shifted gears on the issue. He spent months meeting with different groups in the debate before releasing a set of principles with fellow senators that pairs increased border security with a possible path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Mindful that "amnesty" remains a dirty word in the GOP and that many still flinch at immigration changes approved under President Ronald Reagan, Rubio courted conservative talk-radio hosts and news outlets to head off criticism. Early on, he won positive reviews from powerful conservative media personalities.

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity offered praise for his approach. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called Rubio's ideas "admirable and noteworthy," a tag line that could turn into a handy defense in a Republican primary.

Rubio has had detractors, too.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Rubio's plan would allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S., essentially jumping ahead of those who have waited in their own countries to immigrate to the U.S. legally. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, called Rubio "naive."

Indeed, the focus on immigration could be a boon or a bust for Rubio. If he rallies Republicans behind a plan that offers some resolution, he could be connected to a big legislative victory. But if the plan draws the wrath of Republican activists, it could hinder his ability to seek the big prize in 2016.

"I really believe that if I do the best job I can in the Senate," Rubio told BuzzFeed, "then in a couple of years I'll be in a position to make a decision about whether I want to run for re-election, leave politics and give someone else a shot or run for some other position."

by Anonymousreply 1402/11/2013

Lots of publicity too soon. His name will be tired by 2014.

by Anonymousreply 102/11/2013

I am sure the oppo-intel operatives are going through his past with a fine-toothed comb to add to what we already know.

From my vantage point in early 2013, this guy might have the support of the Cuban-Latin community, but little else.

by Anonymousreply 202/11/2013

Cubans and Mexican-Americans hate each other. The media needs to stop this breathless bullshit.

by Anonymousreply 302/11/2013

Considering he made up a whole crock o shit on why his family fled Cuba, it's a wonder why anyone buys his story.

by Anonymousreply 402/11/2013

[quote]Cubans and Mexican-Americans hate each other.

Why, R3?

by Anonymousreply 502/11/2013

Rubio just demonstrates once again the paucity of Republican presidential candidates.

by Anonymousreply 602/11/2013

Why do they keep telling us he has all this charisma and "it" factor? The guy is as dull as dishwater, and just as plain-looking.

Does "it" just translate as "hispanic" and "not old" for Republicans and the MSM?

by Anonymousreply 702/11/2013

Wow, the media is fucking pathetic. He gets one cover on a dying medium and suddenly other outlets follow suit - because why not be an unoriginal follower rather than a leader of critiquing the hype created by their industry?

by Anonymousreply 802/11/2013

R7, Rubio is more charismatic, younger and better-looking than your average old, white Republican.

by Anonymousreply 902/11/2013

[quote]Rubio is more charismatic, younger and better-looking than your average old, white Republican.

So you're saying he's a 2/10 instead of a 1/10.

Rubio has all the vigor and raw sex appeal of a hypothyroidal mongoloid piglet.

by Anonymousreply 1002/11/2013

Rubio is being pushed much more than Jindal ever was, R10. They are not comparable.

by Anonymousreply 1102/11/2013

That's because the media is comprised of lazy idiots who think simply being Hispanic will galvanize all Hispanics to vote for him... the way they turned Palin into a star when she never had the influence before they decided that her every brain fart was worth noting.

The media is no longer in the business of informing. They create political reality stars, they hype their power and when they fizzle (due to public disinterest), we never hear about them again.

by Anonymousreply 1202/11/2013

He won't age well. That hair eventually won't respond to Rogaine. And his face is the saggy type.

by Anonymousreply 1302/11/2013

He will attract some Latino votes. The question is whether it will be enough.

by Anonymousreply 1402/11/2013
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