ABC The Drum
Less extreme and more likeable than Ted Cruz, more mainstream and electable than Rand Paul, newly declared Republican US presidential candidate Marco Rubio is one to watch. But is the Gen-X first-term senator experienced enough?
It seldom comes as a surprise these days when someone announces they are running for President of the United States. Building a presidential campaign is rather like building a zeppelin — it's hard to do without people noticing. In the case of Hillary Clinton, for all the talk of "I have yet to make a decision", if there was ever any doubt she was running, her campaign renting office space in "hip" Brooklyn Heights a couple of weeks back sure was a giveaway.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been making similarly obvious steps towards seeking the Republican presidential nomination — namely hiring some of the top officials from Mitt Romney's two White House runs, Jim Merrill and Rich Beeson. Staffing moves like that are more than just about snapping up the top skills, it also signals he has a chance of tapping into a similar field of wealthy backers as Romney did.
So no shock when Rubio officially threw his hat in the ring just a day after Clinton, as the timing is handy to help draw a contrast between himself and the likely Democratic nominee.
Marco Rubio is the 43-year-old son of Cuban American immigrants. He once claimed his parents fled the Castro regime, although it later emerged in a prescient move they fled a couple of years before Castro came to power. Still, Rubio represents the kind of rags to riches, or at least powerless to powerful story that fits nicely with the American dream as dreamt by conservatives.
Rubio is a baby-faced first-term senator, elected in 2010 after securing the Republican nomination with the help of the Tea Party movement over the establishment favourite and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
Rubio is hoping lightning strikes twice on that count as he is once again likely to be running against a former Florida Governor and establishment favourite in Jeb Bush. Bush was a mentor to Rubio as he rose through state politics, but political friendships can be short-lived.
Senator Rubio will base his campaign on a vision for the future as opposed to more of the same. His argument against Jeb Bush will be the same as his argument against Hillary Clinton — time to move forward, recognise a new America is here, one where white voters alone no longer decide who will be the President. Time to leave the baby boom culture wars behind, time for the first Gen-X president.
In many ways a Bush-Rubio team would be a dream ticket for the GOP in 2016, a mixture of experience and youth, executive and legislative. Pity they are both from the state of Florida. That reduces their donor base, and while the sunshine state will be a major prize if they can wrest it away from the Democrats, you tend to want a geographical balance between your Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.
Rubio is an eloquent, if occasionally dry-mouthed speaker. He was able to appear concerned and compassionate as he opposed President Obama's Affordable Care Act. He left some of his erstwhile Tea Party backers scratching their heads when he joined the group of eight Senators who lead a bipartisan push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, a move which could cost him support in the primaries where higher border fences play better than a pathway to citizenship.
In 2016 Republicans desperately want to close the Democrats recent 70–30 split of the Hispanic vote, and Rubio may be the man to do it. Although Latino politics are not that simple, and some will argue a conservative Cuban American is no more likely to connect with a South American than, say, a 67-year-old white woman.
Senior Republicans, including 1996 nominee Senator Bob Dole, have cast doubt over whether Rubio or his fellow senate freshman Presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have the experience for the job. That must particularly sting Rubio, who cut his political teeth on Dole's presidential campaign against Bill Clinton.
But Marco Rubio is one to watch. Less extreme and more likeable than Ted Cruz, more mainstream and electable than Rand Paul, his road to the White House could pass through the Vice Presidency. On that front his success may depend on Jeb Bush's failure. If another establishment figure like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin claims the nomination, don't be surprised to see Rubio on the undercard in November 2016.
This article was originally published at ABC The Drum