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Rubio seeks to avoid Christie's mistake in Thursday speech to convention

Sen. Marco Rubio missed out on two of the biggest prizes of the Republican National Convention but the 15 minutes he has proceeding Mitt Romney is quite the consolation prize.

As the Republican senator from Florida, this has been a landmark week for Rubio, who has filled his schedule with public appearances and meetings with party officials who may be critical should he ever run for president.

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When asked by a reporter how Thursday’s speech would differ from others he has delivered, Rubio laughed and said: “I don’t know. Thirty-nine million people, probably.”

Rubio was passed over for two of the most high-profile convention slots — the keynote address and the vice presidential speaking slot — and his political stock seemed to be in mild decline. Earlier this year his name was regularly mentioned on Romney’s short list of potential running mates and he was seen as the GOP’s savior for attracting Hispanic voters.

But the primetime slot he received is one that most politicians would envy. The television audience for the convention is expected to reach its apogee before Romney's acceptance speech and the bar is high.

Rubio delivered what his aides billed as a major foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution in April, when he was auditioning for a spot on the ticket. While it was passionate and smart, Rubio stumbled over his words at times and did not receive much adulation. 

Adding to the freshman senator's pressure, Republican delegates and strategists were raving Thursday morning over the electrifying speech Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered on Wednesday, which has been described as a home run.

The expectations are so high that anything short of a triple on Rubio's part would be a disappointment. In comparison, what, in most other contexts, would have been received as a strong speech from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday, has become seen as something of a disappointment.

Thursday’s speech is Rubio’s formal introduction on the national political stage but he has made clear that he will focus his remarks on Romney, sidestepping the trap Christie fell into by giving a speech that some Republicans thought paid short shrift to the nominee.

Rubio sees his job is to brag about Romney.

“He is a modest person [who] doesn’t like to brag about what he’s done for others. But we have to let the American people know who he is, because he’s a special person,” Rubio said Wednesday during an interview with CBS. “He is a modest person [who] doesn’t like to brag about himself. But we’re gonna do it for him.”

Rubio, who is of Cuban-American heritage, could deliver part of his remarks in Spanish, a notable gesture to Hispanic voters, who have sided overwhelmingly with President Obama in national polls.

Reaching out to Latino voters has been a preoccupation of GOP officials this week. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush warned fellow Republicans at a lunch sponsored by the Hispanic Leadership Network to “stop acting stupid” and drop the harsh rhetoric on immigration that has alienated their party from the fast-growing electoral bloc.

In the Senate, Rubio has worked to build a portfolio of foreign policy expertise but his introductory speech is not likely to focus on those themes. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party’s elder statesman on national security issues, covered that ground Wednesday, bashing Obama’s handling of American power abroad.

Instead, Rubio will probably testify about his own experience of the American Dream and tout Romney as an entrepreneur and business expert who can create new economic opportunity across the nation. Rubio will stress his own humble roots, filling out a theme sketched by speakers earlier this week.

Christie noted his father “grew up in poverty” and his mother came from nothing; Ann Romney shared she is the granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner; and Ryan recounted his mother’s struggles to start a new career after his father died.

Rubio gave a possible preview of his speech during a meeting with the South Carolina delegation earlier this week.

“My parents were working-class folks. My dad was a bartender his whole life, my mom was a maid, a cashier, a stock clerk at Kmart,” he said. “They encouraged us to dream any dream we wanted because in America these things were possible.

“My parents worked jobs so one day we could have careers, and the fundamental question we face now is whether we’re still that or whether we want to become more like the rest of the world, where the government dominates the economy."

Rubio said he hoped the 2012 Republican convention would be about that defining choice between two “very different directions" and that, at the end of the week, Americans will take away the message that Romney is a “special person."

“You look at the way he has lived his life, as a father, as a grandfather, as a leader in his church and his community, this man is a role model,” he said.