Mitt who? The 2012 presidential election had barely ended when jockeying by Republicans began for 2016. The GOP has a history of nominating people who have run before, which could give heart to some familiar faces. But there’s also a crop of young rising stars who could steal the show, including Mitt Romney’s running mate and a certain Cuban-American senator from Florida.
Young and charismatic, Marco Rubio burst onto the national scene in 2010 when he defeated then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to become the junior senator from Florida. Dubbed by some the GOP’s Barack Obama, Senator Rubio has managed his image carefully, delivering serious policy addresses and initially playing down any designs on higher office.
In another echo of Obama, he delivered perhaps the best-received speech of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Now that the campaign is over, Rubio can be less coy. Just 12 days after the election, he was in Iowa – home of the first nominating contest – speaking at a fundraiser for the governor. At the Jack Kemp Foundation award dinner in Washington on Dec. 4, 2012, he adopted an inclusive tone.
“Some say that our problem is that the American people have changed, that too many people want things from government,” Rubio said. “I am still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people just want what my parents had – a chance.”
Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants, and could help the GOP recover from Mr. Romney’s poor showing among Latinos (though not all Latinos feel warmly toward Cuban-Americans, who have special immigration status). Still, pride among Latinos that one of their own could become president might override reservations. Rubio has been a leader in the Senate on immigration reform, and Latinos have welcomed his calls for compassion.
As a Floridian, he would be positioned to win his state’s crucial early primary. And if he won the nomination, he would have an excellent shot at winning the nation’s biggest battleground state.
A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of Republicans released Jan. 10, 2013, puts Rubio at the top for the 2016 nomination, with 21 percent – largely because of his strength with the party’s most conservative wing. That’s pretty low for No. 1, and portends a wide-open nomination race. His biggest weakness – little executive experience – may be hard to overcome. But if you’re Rubio, being at the top of a poll is still a nice place to be.
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