Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE is gambling that 2016 is his moment.
Rubio, a 43-year-old Florida Republican star who was Speaker of the Florida House just six years ago, is expected to announce Monday that he is seeking the GOP nomination for president.
The stakes are high for Rubio, who could end the cycle without a political office. He’s up for reelection to the Senate next year, and he has said he won’t run for president and his current job simultaneously.
Some Republicans say it’s a gamble he’s wise to make.
“He’s putting all his chips in, but I like this play,” said Craig Robinson, the former head of the Iowa Republican Party. “The field has front-runners, but they’re weak front-runners. If one of these guys stumbles, all of a sudden it’s a jump ball, and Marco is going to get a lot of looks.”
Many expected Rubio to step aside when his onetime political mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said he was exploring a White House bid.
But over the past few months in the invisible GOP primary, he’s hung tough.
Rubio has attracted big donors and connected staffers while building momentum. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently gave him strong odds of winning the GOP primary, calling Rubio the “underestimated dark horse candidate.
Supporters say Rubio’s best chance at the White House might be next year, and they say he wants to avoid the fate of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), who chose not to run in 2012 and might have missed his moment.
“You call it a gamble, but he’s got the passion and drive to tap into what the country is feeling right now, so he’s going to strike while the iron is hot,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who will support Rubio for president in 2016, told The Hill.
Rubio seems to relish the role of underdog. He often notes that nobody gave him a shot to win his 2010 Senate bid, when he was “50 points down in the polls, and the only people who thought I could win all lived in my home,” he recounted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month.
In national polls, Rubio is in the middle of the pack, well within striking distance of Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
A survey from the Democratic Public Policy Polling released earlier this month showed Rubio has the highest favorability rating of any of the GOP contenders, with 55 percent of voters saying they have a positive view of him.
And Rubio’s pollster, Whit Ayres, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor event earlier this month that the GOP must double its support among Hispanics if the party is remain competitive in national races going forward.
To do that, Ayres argued, the GOP must put forth a candidate that makes people “take a fresh look at the Republican Party.”
“The Republican Party has to modernize, and Rubio is in that sphere of folks pushing to do that,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. “He’s going to focus on outreach and bringing in new voters. He has a real opportunity to build on that traction he’s getting with donors and turn it into traction with new voters.”
Of course, Rubio’s defenders also say his potential candidacy is about far more than cold political calculation.
“I take him at his word that this is not just about the political landscape,” said Florida Republican strategist Rick Wilson. “It’s about looking at the field and determining whether there’s anyone else offering a big perspective, bold redirection for America, and a conservative message compelling enough to take up against the Hillary Death Star.”
Rubio’s personal biography will likely be a central component of that message.
On Monday, he’ll speak at the Freedom Tower in Miami, which served as a clearinghouse for thousands of Cuban exiles seeking a new life in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. Rubio has talked at length about how his parents arrived in the U.S. in the 1950s as poor Cuban immigrants with no prospects.
“For me, this is deeply personal,” Rubio said in an emotional CPAC address in February. “See, America doesn’t owe me anything. But I have a debt to America that I will never be able to repay.”
Following his expected campaign launch, Rubio will return to Washington for Senate business, including a high-profile Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran, before bolting to New Hampshire for a full day in the early-voting state next Friday.
Critics argue that Rubio’s candidacy is heavy on style but light on substance. They compare him to President Obama, another first-term senator who ran for president with no executive experience, and say the contrast between Rubio and Bush, a former governor, will be stark.
“His biography, [he’s] a good communicator … sounds like Obama déjà vu,” said GOP strategist Nino Saviano, calling him a “shooting star rather than a rising one.
Rubio supporters push back, noting that, unlike Obama, Rubio will have completed a full term in the Senate. And at a time of heightened national security concerns, the GOP senator has also been bolstering his foreign policy expertise.
“He has a lot of substance. It’s way more than just rhetoric,” said Rooney. “You’ll start to see that criticism fall away once this gets under way.”