Is Marco Rubio the Candidate the Democrats Fear the Most?

By Rachel Alexander Published on April 14, 2015

On Monday night, Florida Senator Marco Rubio became the third major Republican candidate to announce he was officially running for president, after Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. He made the announcement from the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, considered the Ellis Island of Florida, where Cuban refugees seeking political asylum from Castro’s communist regime were processed by the federal government in the ’60s and early ’70s. It made a powerful statement, that the son of refugees is now running for president.

Rubio’s parents came to America before the Castro regime, and took menial jobs. He told the cheering crowd, “My father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room so that tonight I could stand behind this podium in front of this room.”

Rubio has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s efforts to relax relations with Cuba, and takes a hawkish approach to foreign policy. Earlier this year, he published the book American Dreams, which lays out how to rise to success economically in the U.S.

The youngest candidate in the race, Rubio reached out to younger voters in his speech, saying, “This election is not just about what laws we will pass, it is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be.”

A lawyer, Rubio worked his way up through the political system, serving in the Florida House from 2000 to 2008 and eventually becoming Speaker. While there he developed a reputation for pursuing innovative policy ideas and while Speaker of the Florida House, he wrote a book, 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future, which contained many ideas he implemented while Speaker.

He went on to defeat liberal Republican turned Democrat Charlie Crist in a surprising underdog campaign to become U.S. Senator in 2010, making him an instant Tea Party favorite. The New York Times magazine declared him the “first Senator from the Tea Party.”

Since taking office, Rubio has disappointed the Tea Party once, in 2013, when he joined a bipartisan group of Democrats and moderate Republicans to propose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which went further than even Jeb Bush’s plan. Bush supports a path for legal status only. Rubio’s legislation failed, and at CPAC earlier this year, he said he now would only support a path to citizenship after securing the border.

He has a 98.67 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, higher than most other Republican Senators.The Pulse 2016, a new site tracking the presidential election, gave Rubio an A grade on handling the Indiana religious freedom law controversy. The site noted that during an appearance on The Five, Rubio spoke “intelligently, knowledgeably, and at length about the need to protect the rights of Christians to follow their religious convictions.”

Rubio is a Roman Catholic who attends both Catholic Mass and a Baptist Church. Lauren Markoe explains:

Rubio and his wife Jeanette often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C., and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received first Holy Communion.

At the same time, Rubio, has made less effort than some of the other Republican presidential hopefuls to court Christian conservatives.

On the fiscal side of the conservative equation, Rubio’s new tax reform proposal is raising some eyebrows. Introduced with conservative stalwart Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the plan would consolidate income tax rates into just two, 15 percent and 35 percent, eliminate capital gains taxes on investment income for individuals, combine all corporate tax rates to 25 percent, and resuscitate the child tax credit, which had shrunk under the Obama administration. However, individuals making as little as $75,000 would be subject to the 35 percent rate. Many conservatives prefer the more radical flat tax option advocated by Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

The Jeb Factor

Rubio has a deep friendship with Jeb Bush that goes back 15 years, which will present a challenge as they compete on the campaign trail. It could bring about a repeat of the 2008 race, where friends John McCain and Mike Huckabee refrained from attacking each other and instead directed their criticisms primarily at Mitt Romney. Some believe this did influence the race, with the effect of giving McCain an edge over Romney. If Rubio and Bush continue the friendship, it could give either one or both an edge over the competition.

One of the most interesting aspects of Rubio’s candidacy will be how he fares against Bush as they compete for the same donors. Both get much of their support from the more moderate, pragmatic wing of the GOP. New Hampshire, unlike the other early primary states, is composed of a high percentage of moderate Republicans, and the outcome of that primary may provide an accurate prediction as to which of the two has the best chance.


Rubio’s background as the son of lower income Cuban immigrants is sure to resonate with many, as is the fact that he pulled himself out of debt over the past 15 years, paying off $165,000 in student loans. Not raised in a privileged family, he took out loans in order to attend law school.

While Rubio may attract some Tea Party support, he will also have to share it with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. He also doesn’t have a lock on Latinos, since Cruz is also a Cuban American and Jeb Bush speaks fluent Spanish and is married to a Mexican immigrant. At the same time, both of Rubio’s parents are Cuban, whereas Cruz’s father is Cuban and his mother anglo-American. Surely this shouldn’t matter to voters, but it might to some. Combine this with the fact that Rubio has taken a softer stance in the immigration debate, and it’s at least possible that will rally a disproportionate number of Latinos to his candidacy.

On the negative side of the ledger, Rubio has had some negative scrutiny over his finances, which included putting a large number of personal expenses on a Republican Party credit card while he was Florida Speaker of the House.  And after several years under the youthful Obama, who many think was promoted beyond his ability, the electorate may be hesitant to vote for the youngest candidate.

This latter issue, of course, cuts both ways. He may compete well with Rand Paul for the younger vote, and his good looks and charisma are unlikely to hurt him with voters in any age demographic. Indeed, the left seems to be worried about his charisma and cross-over appeal. And in many ways he is the antithesis of the older, white, dynasty Democrat that is Hillary Clinton. Ironically, if this election is like the 1992 election that swept Hillary’s husband into the White House,, where a young and charismatic Bill Clinton defeated the older, establishment George H.W. Bush, this could be Rubio’s year.

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