As Conan O’Brien put it last Saturday night, Marco Rubio is the Republicans’ “black guy.”
That is, he’s the charismatic, young, minority senator who is clearly running for president – as then-Sen. Barack Obama was just a few years ago. And if the early polls on 2016 are any guide, Senator Rubio of Florida is a strong contender, if not the strongest, for the Republican nomination.
But there’s a big difference between how Senator Obama ran for president and how Rubio appears to be running.
Rubio is in a wholly different boat. As the only experienced Hispanic senator in the Republican Party – now joined by the more hard-line conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – Rubio is a natural ambassador to a voting bloc that Republicans desperately need to attract. And after GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s poor performance with Latino voters (just 27 percent), Rubio understands that enacting comprehensive immigration reform can help his party overcome Latinos’ resistance to the Republican brand, analysts say.
In response, Rubio has positioned himself as one of the lead Republicans on the issue. He probably had no choice.
“Usually you stay away from having a long vote record or taking on a serious initiative, because having a long vote record can be hazardous to your presidential health,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But Rubio recognized that if the Republican Party is to win the White House in 2016, it will need more than the white vote.”