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Marco Rubio Says to America: Look, the GOP is Not Racist

by David Yee, published
When U.S. Senator

Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) throws a breakfast party for bundlers and donors, he really knows how to set the theme -- by announcing a bid for the 2016 presidential race.

While announcing his candidacy to "the money" first might be an error of judgment, Rubio isn't the garden variety Republican and brings a collection of both moderate and conservative values to the race.

As the junior U.S. senator from Florida, Rubio has made a mark on issues that starkly contrast him with declared candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. In particular:

  • He took a stand against sequestration -- drawing sharp criticism from Rand Paul -- in his response to the 2013 State of the Union address.
  • He is an established hawk in foreign policy. While Cruz’s hawkish/isolationist views often alienate him from his tea party base, Rubio fits in well with the party line on subjects like the Iran nuclear deal.
  • He can unify the Cuban, Latino, and Hispanic voting bloc in a way that Cruz can't. While Cruz staunchly opposes President Obama's immigration plan, and has taken a hardline stance on border security and illegal immigration, Rubio pushed for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 -- bipartisan legislation that included a pathway to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants. While he has since distanced himself from these efforts, he still has the appearance and experience of being a unifying force.
  • He has the appearance of youthful vitality. At 43, if elected, he would be the third youngest president at time of election (Theodore Roosevelt (42) and John F. Kennedy (43) being the youngest).

But Rubio also has some severe problems:

  • Even though he placed second among potential Republican candidates in a January Zogby poll, he isn't expected to do well in the early primary states. Historically this kind of uphill battle has not been easy for Republican candidates to overcome.
  • Although his record is one of a rank-and-file Republican, he has been dubbed a "crown prince" of the tea party movement. Winning the moderates, independents, and swing voters will be difficult if this is effectively exploited.
  • He runs in too many of the same political and social circles as Jeb Bush. If Bush joins the race, Rubio will have a difficult time keeping even some of his most loyal supporters. He considers Bush to be one of his political mentors, and it will be very difficult for him to potentially lose a close ally and friend.

But the real issue is which Republican candidate can face the election map of 2016, and, more importantly, who can win key battleground states.

At the moment, it seems winning Florida is one of the few paths to victory for the Republicans in 2016. And while winning your home state is expected of a successful presidential candidate (only three have won without taking their home state), a recent Public Policy poll indicates that Floridians aren't exactly wild about either a Bush or Rubio bid for the White House.

Even worse, since Rubio promised not to seek re-election to the Senate if he launched a presidential campaign, the current polls indicate that his U.S. Senate seat is a toss-up, meaning the senator who takes his place could have a "D" next to their name instead of an "R."

There is no clear way to view Rubio's entrance into the race, because as it stands now, he is just as much a liability as an asset to Republicans in the 2016 presidential race.

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