- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2015

Sen. Marco Rubio hailed his personal story as the son of Cuban immigrants as he announced his run Monday for the Republican presidential nomination — once again tapping the same biography that helped make him a rising GOP star five years ago.

His inspirational upbringing helped him rise from a county commissioner to speaker of the Florida House and then to U.S. senator, but analysts said he will have to reach beyond that story if he is to go deep into the primaries in a field replete with governing heft and rhetorical skill.

“I know that my candidacy my seem improbable to some watching from abroad,” Mr. Rubio said Monday evening from the Freedom Tower in Miami — a spot known as the Cuban Ellis Island because it was the government building that welcomed refugees fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist regime.

“After all, in many countries the highest office in the land is reserved for the rich and the powerful, but I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and same future as those who come from power and privilege,” he said.

The 43-year-old is the third Republican to enter the race officially, after a couple of other tea party favorites: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Polls put the Floridian in the middle of the pack among Republican contenders, both nationally and in early primary states.

SEE ALSO: Marco Rubio is running for president, ‘uniquely qualified’ to lead nation

But unlike Mr. Paul, who persuaded the party in his state to change primary procedures so he could run both for president and for re-election to the Senate, Mr. Rubio’s announcement means Florida will elect a new senator next year.

To break out, analysts said, Mr. Rubio must expand his personal story into a broader narrative on why he deserves someone’s vote.

“No one has a better story, more eloquently told, than Marco Rubio,” said Ron Kaufman, a member of the Republican National Committee from Massachusetts who served in the administration of George H.W. Bush and advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

“Wherever he goes and tells that story, he wins friends and influences people,” he said. “But after he tells the story, he needs a narrative, which will explain what has he done to prove that people should volunteer their time, their effort and money to help him become president.

“If he does that, he will be a serious contender,” Mr. Kaufman said. “If he doesn’t, he wont.”

Kevin Sheridan, a Republican Party strategist, said, “Biography is always important, but campaigns aren’t run on paper, and his team knows that.

“Fortunately for Rubio, he happens to have a very compelling personal story and is a dynamic campaigner,” Mr. Sheridan said.

Mr. Rubio, he said, has taken time to build his reputation on substantive issues as he looks to “pass the gravitas test,” and that leaves him in good shape to make a broader appeal to primary voters.

On Monday, Mr. Rubio broadly outlined his vision for the nation, saying the U.S. must “once again accept the mantle of global leadership,” strengthen its education system, reform the tax code and reduce spending. Mr. Rubio said it is time to fix the nation’s broken immigration system and to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Mr. Rubio made a big splash five years ago when he announced what many analysts considered to be a long-shot tea party bid for the Senate, challenging Gov. Charlie Crist in a primary. Within months, Mr. Crist’s support had cratered and he fled the party altogether, leaving Mr. Rubio the Republican nominee en route to an easy general election victory over Mr. Crist, who ultimately ran as an independent, and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.

Despite his popularity in Florida and among some conservative activists nationally, Mr. Rubio remains a relative unknown for voters.

A CNN/ORC poll showed that close to four in 10 adult voters have never heard of Mr. Rubio. A Monmouth University poll told a similar story among likely Republican voters, with 40 percent of respondents saying they have “no opinion” of him.

“Rubio’s biggest challenge in Iowa will be time,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois, who covered Iowa politics for more than three decades.

“Does he have enough [time] to do the retail, door-to-door campaigning that’s required to win?” Mr. Yepsen said. “He’s got a job, and he’s got to be fundraising.

“If he can find time to do retail work, he’s got a message and style that should sell in Iowa, but it’s fair to ask whether a guy who mastered politics in a media megastate like Florida can retail in places like Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said.

Mr. Rubio announced his candidacy a day after former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the race.

“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday,” Mr. Rubio said of Mrs. Clinton. “Yesterday’s over, and we are never going back.

“We Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future and before us is now the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America,” he said, before going on to take shots at Mrs. Clinton that would apply equally well to one of the two Republican poll leaders: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“We can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past,” he said.

“Too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century,” he said. “The time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American century.”

Mr. Rubio jump-started his political career in the late 1990s as a city commissioner in West Miami. In 2000, he won a seat in the Florida Legislature and rose to become the first Cuban-American to hold the post of House speaker.

He endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the 2008 Republican presidential nomination race. Mr. Huckabee also might run next year.

Since being elected to the Senate, Mr. Rubio helped usher an immigration bill through the Senate in 2013 that would have provided quick legal status to illegal immigrants, as well as a pathway to citizenship in exchange for more border security.

His involvement in the bill — which the Senate passed by a vote of 68-32 with support from every Democrat and 14 Republicans — angered conservatives, who still question whether he was hoodwinked by the others who helped hash it out, including Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Since then, he has been busy touting his foreign policy credentials.

Mr. Rubio circled back to his story toward the end of his speech, saying the U.S. “is literally the place that changed my family’s history.”

“I regret that my father did not live to see this day in person,” he said.

His father, he added, used to tell him, in Spanish, “In this country, you will achieve all the things we never could.”

“My father was grateful for the work he had, but that was not the life he wanted for his children,” Mr. Rubio said. “He wanted all the dreams that he once had for himself to come true for us. He wanted all the doors that closed for him to open for me, and so my father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room for all those years so tonight I could stand behind this podium in front of this room and this nation.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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