Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida sells himself as the most electable Republican and is viewed as the GOP mainstream’s presidential contender. After a strong third-place finish in Iowa, Rubio fell to fifth in New Hampshire following a weak debate performance. The latest poll has him at third place in South Carolina. His campaign is downplaying early voting states, saying they expect a long campaign.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio won a Senate seat during the tea party wave of 2010, and has since broadened his appeal beyond the limited government, libertarian-leaning movement. At 44, he attracts younger voters – long a tricky reach for Republicans – and he would make history as the first Hispanic president. He’s a strong fundraiser and in-demand campaigner.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Rubio was expected to brawl with his one-time mentor: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But he and Bush have been overshadowed by billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He’s betting big that Republican voters across the political spectrum ultimately will coalesce behind his candidacy in the state-by-state slog for delegates.
Born in Miami, Rubio attended college in Missouri on a football scholarship before transferring to the University of Florida, where he earned his undergraduate degree. He went on to earn his law degree from the University of Miami, where as a third-year law student, he ran Dade County for Sen. Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996. He defeated an incumbent to win a seat on the West Miami City Commission, moving on to the state House two years later.
In 2007, he became the first Hispanic elected speaker of the Florida House and in 2009 began his against-all-odds run for the U.S. Senate. In that race, he beat the establishment-favored candidate in the GOP primary and won the general election in a three-way race.
Rubio has chosen not to run for re-election to the Senate to pursue the GOP presidential nomination.
Rubio pledges lower individual and corporate taxes, a tax credit for couples with children, alternatives to traditional college education and increased defense spending. On immigration, he wants the border secured before dealing with those here illegally – making them earn work permits after at least 10 years.
His main theme: The country needs a “new generation of leadership” for a “new American century.”
Says Rubio in his stump speech: “I run for president because I believe that we can’t just save the American dream; we can expand it to reach more people and change more lives than ever before.”
Whether it’s fending off attacks from Bush or focusing attacks on Cruz, Rubio is a polished politician on the national debate stage. Conservatives crowed about the line Rubio – whose mother worked as a maid and whose father tended bar – used to go after Democrat Hillary Clinton in the first GOP debate.
“How is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me on living paycheck to paycheck?” Rubio said. “I was raised to paycheck to paycheck.”
He now uses the line regularly to highlight his own economic proposals.
Moment to remember
One of Rubio’s strongest moments in the debates came in October when Bush went after him on his Senate attendance record and more. In response, Rubio managed to make Bush look beleaguered and a slave to his advisers all at once. “We’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” he said.
Rubio has taken plenty of grief from some rivals for his spotty attendance record in the Senate and his missed votes while out campaigning. “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up for work,” Jeb Bush admonished in one debate.
Indeed, from Oct. 27, 2014, to Oct. 26, 2015, Rubio was absent for 26 percent of Senate votes, a worse attendance record than other senators running for president, according to an analysis by GovTrack.us, which tracks congressional voting records.
To be sure, both Barack Obama and John McCain had even worse Senate attendance records when they ran against each other in 2008. But Rubio appeared sensitive to the criticism: In early January, he skipped a Florida fundraiser to return conspicuously to Washington for a classified hearing on North Korea. A photo of him scurrying to the meeting landed on Twitter. GOP and Democratic opponents alike pounced on the episode.
Online and social media