Recovering From Immigration Setback, Rubio Builds Conservative Ties

A year after falling out of favor with fellow conservatives over his push to reform the U.S. immigration system, one-time Tea Party golden boy Marco Rubio is rebuilding bridges with activists on the Republican right who could smooth his way toward a possible White House run in 2016.

Rubio's office is working on economic policies with the influential Heritage Action for America group, which fiercely criticized a bipartisan bill last year partly written by Rubio that would have relaxed immigration laws.

And the first-term U.S. senator from Florida appears to have made up with Tea Party patriarch Jim DeMint, a one-time mentor whose criticism also helped sink the immigration bill.

DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina, leads the Heritage Foundation think tank, which often helps shape the right-wing policy agenda and is affiliated with Heritage Action.

Rubio's warmer ties with high-profile Tea Partiers do not mean he has regained his position as a star with the Republican Party's right wing. But they do appear to be part of an attempt to move on from his setback on immigration and shore up some conservative support in a crowded field of possible right-wing Republican candidates.

Although they have received more attention recently, Rubio's potential conservative rivals in the presidential race, like senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, have yet to really break out as candidates, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Republican strategist O'Connell said Rubio's chances as a presidential hopeful are under-rated.

"The rest of the field both on the establishment side and the conservative side is faltering. Cruz hasn't demonstrated the ability to get beyond the base and Rand Paul's foreign policy has him crosswise with the establishment. So right now Rubio is undervalued as a 2016 candidate," he said.

Read more from Gabriel Debenedetti at Reuters

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