Rubio announces presidential campaign

Campaign 2016
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 4/13/15, 07:48 pm

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., officially announced his campaign for president today, pledging to revive flagging American exceptionalism. 

“I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake, and I can make a difference as president,” Rubio said to cheering supporters at Miami’s Freedom Tower, where thousands of Cuban refugees found relocation assistance in the 1960s and ’70s.

Rubio, 43, will likely be the youngest candidate in the field for either party. He sought to capitalize on his youthfulness with a forward-looking message. He unveiled “A New American Century” as his campaign theme.

“Too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century,” Rubio said to a crowd of some 1,000 that was packed in close to him. “They’re busy looking backward.”

Rubio’s announcement made him the third Republican to officially launch a 2016 campaign, following Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last month, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., last week. All three are freshman senators, but each has carved out a different niche in the GOP: Cruz as a hard-line conservative willing to fight with either party, Paul as a libertarian conservative who wants less American engagement abroad, and Rubio as a foreign policy hawk willing to use government to address pressing problems. 

Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, clearly wants to make foreign policy a cornerstone of his campaign. He blasted the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of Russian and Chinese aggression, “dangerous concessions to Iran, and hostility toward Israel.” Rubio also continued his outspoken criticism of the administration’s move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, where his parents emigrated from in 1956. 

Rubio’s low-income, immigrant upbringing is one of his main draws as a candidate, and he spoke frequently of his family during his remarks. “I live in a country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams, the same future, as those who come from power and privilege,” he said.

Rubio spent nine years in the Florida House of Representatives, rising to speaker of the House in 2007. He ran successfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010, besting then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who was the heavy favorite. Rubio’s decision to seek the presidency instead of reelection in 2016 will make his Republican seat a toss-up.

Despite Rubio’s more than 13 years in elected office, he’s faced criticism for a lack of major accomplishments, particularly at the national level. He was part of a bipartisan group of senators who passed an immigration overhaul in 2013, but it died in the House, and the far right of the party views it as a negative. Rubio has also endured controversy over a Florida home he co-owns with a scandal-ridden former congressman.

Rubio’s announcement came a day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed in a video posted to social media that she is again running for president. She will begin campaigning in Iowa on Tuesday, sandwiching Rubio’s announcement with her own headlines. 

Rubio, who spoke haltingly at times, took the opportunity to highlight Clinton’s age, jabbing her as a “a leader from yesterday” who “began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. … Yesterday is over, and we’re never going back.”

Kyle Kondik with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told me it’s possible Clinton is trying to overshadow Rubio because he’s the Republican she would least like to face, but he predicted “any damage done will be fleeting.” Kondik said while Rubio’s skill set gives him “a better than 50-50 chance of becoming a serious player for the nomination, he’s less than 50-50 to actually win it.”

Even if he does, he has history working against him. The United States has elected a sitting senator to the presidency only three times: Warren G. Harding (1921-23), John F. Kennedy (1961-63), and Barack Obama. 

Rubio has failed to generate more than single-digit support in most early 2016 polls, but many Republicans view him favorably as someone who could bridge the divide between the establishment and tea party wings of the GOP. A recent Politico survey of early primary state insiders found that three out of four believe Rubio could win their state—significantly more than either Cruz or Paul. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics ranks Rubio as one of three candidates in the first tier of the GOP field, along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

In his closing, Rubio—who identifies as Catholic but also attends an evangelical church—asked for prayer and quoted Joshua 1:9 in reference to the challenge ahead: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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