JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida's junior U.S. senator is among 10 Republicans considered prospective candidates for president in 2016.
Weekend appearances in New Hampshire are the clearest sign yet of Sen. Marco Rubio's national political ambitions. In a speech Friday, Rubio accused Democrats of threatening the American dream as he campaigned across the state that holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Rubio also jabbed at former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, considered the overwhelming favorite to win the next Democratic presidential nomination if she chooses to run, in a speech to hundreds of Republicans gathered along New Hampshire's seacoast.
"They're threatening to nominate someone now who wants to take us to the past - to an era that's gone and never coming back," Rubio, 43, told the Rockingham County Republican Committee, a reference to Clinton. "The road we're on right now is a road that will rob us of the American dream."
Rubio has also beefed up political organization and charts an aggressive role in this fall's midterm elections.
Rubio is the first in the group of the so-called mainstream Republican class to appear in New Hampshire this year. Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister, and tea party favorites Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have visited several times.
In national television appearances, Rubio remains coy about his ambitions.
Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that he believes he is ready and qualified to be president. He also says he has the experience for the job.
"But I think that's true for multiple other people that would want to run," the Florida Republican tells Jonathan Karl. "I mean I'll be 43 this month, but the other thing that perhaps people don't realize, I've served now in public office for the better part of 14 years."
Rubio is also touching all the bases that all modern presidential candidates must:
Book: Yes, has a new book tentatively scheduled for release in late 2014, from same publisher of his 2012 memoir "An American Son."
Iowa visits: Yes, just days after 2012 election, but has been largely holding off on a new wave of trips to early voting states. That's changing now.
South Carolina: Yes. In ahead of the 2016 pack, headlining state's Silver Elephant dinner in 2012. Stay tuned for more.
Foreign travel: Yes. Delivered foreign policy speech in London in early December, visited the Philippines, Japan and South Korea in January; Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority in February 2013. Also went to Israel after 2010 election to Senate, Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011, Spain, Germany, Haiti and Colombia in 2012. Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meet the money: Yes, aggressive national fundraising outreach. Raised more money last year than potential rivals Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Met potential donors in New York and California. One of only a few possible candidates to attend September 2013 event at home of Woody Johnson, New York Jets' owner and Mitt Romney's national finance chairman. Also attended a fundraising strategy meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington with well-connected lobbyists and Romney bundlers from 2012 election.
Networking: Yes, conservative and party activists, focused in part on repairing tea party relationships strained over immigration. Speech to National Rifle Association in April; also foreign policy speech at University of Texas. Well-received speech to Conservative Political Action Conference in March, though he lagged in the symbolic straw poll. Campaigned for Republican in Virginia governor's race last fall. Spent more than $200,000 in early December 2013 from PAC to help U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who's running for the U.S Senate in Arkansas. In October won standing ovations at Values Voter conference when affirming his Christian faith and denouncing "rising tide of intolerance" toward social conservatives.
Hog the TV: Staying on par with most rivals in Sunday news show appearances, did one from New Hampshire in May. Blanketed all five Sunday shows one day in April 2013, before he dropped the subject of immigration. Frequent guest on news networks. Was granted coveted chance to present televised Republican response to Obama's State of the Union speech in 2013, which he did in two languages and with jarring reach for drink of water.
Do something: Broker of Senate immigration overhaul, though he's gone quiet on the issue. Worked with anti-abortion groups on Senate version of bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. Early leader in so-far futile effort to starve federal health care law of money.
Take a stand: A 2014 initiative on poverty that calls for replacing the earned income tax credit with a federal wage supplement for workers in certain low-paying jobs. Advocates tea party fiscal conservatism and repeal of the health care law. Has become a leading GOP voice in foreign policy, pressing for stronger U.S. action in geopolitical hot spots. On climate change: "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it." Proposed legislative remedies would "destroy our economy."
Baggage: A rift with his tea party constituency on immigration, "a real trial for me." Deflection: Go aggressive on a matter of common ground, which he did in pledging to take apart Obama's health law. Dry-mouthed Rubio suffered embarrassing moment when he clumsily reached for water while delivering GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address. Deflection: Self-deprecating jokes about it. Thin resume for presidency, but others -- Obama included -- have powered through that problem. Bush shadow: unclear if he would run should his mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, get in the race.
Shadow campaign: Beginning more aggressive travel to early voting states; has lagged potential rivals on that front. Ramping up in other ways, too: Shuffled his staff and directed political resources of his Reclaim America PAC to three big Senate midterm races this year, one of them the GOP primary in Iowa.
Social media: Aggressive, with large followings, appears to make personal use of Twitter more than staff-generated Facebook. Takes lots of shots at the health law. On Facebook, lists "Pulp Fiction" movie and "The Tudors" historical fiction TV series among favorites.
Asked a timetable for his decision to run, he said, "It's something I'll consider at the end of this year."
"I will not have some sort of exit strategy to run for the Senate, too," Rubio said. "I believe that if you want to be president of the United States, you run for president. You don't run for president with some eject button in the cockpit that allows your to go on an exit ramp if it doesn't work out."
One factor in his decision is likely whether Florida's former Gov. Jeb Bush will enter the fray. Political observers don't expect two "mainstream" Republicans from Florida would campaign against each other.
"Sen. Rubio needs to straddle tea party conservatives with mainstream Republicans, and if he can survive Iowa and New Hampshire, he's got an opportunity," said Matthew Corrigan, a political science professor at the University of North Florida.
Corrigan said Rubio has the ability to appeal to young and Latino voters. He said he provides the Republican Party with a fresh look for the future, but Corrigan said he lacks the experience in running a branch of the government.
Corrigan said fundraising could be complicated if both Rubio and and Bush decide to run for president.
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