WASHINGTON, February 12, 2013 — Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s screen test for his 2016 presidential run is Tuesday, February 12, immediately following the President’s State of the Union Address.
The GOP tapped the young Florida Senator (41 years old) to not only be its spokesman but the face of the newly branded Republican Party. Rubio will be the first Hispanic to give an opposition party’s rebuttal since the practice was first started in 1966. A Cuban-American, Rubio will make it a bilingual address as well.
However, most political junkies tuning in will not be listening so much to what Rubio has to say but how well he says it. Will he be a dud like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in 2009 or will he be crowned the savior of the GOP as Time magazine calls him? Party stalwarts have been keeping their fingers crossed that Rubio does not “Jindal” his rebuttal.
Responses to the State of the Union are hard enough anyway under the best of circumstances and most of what is said will not have been written by Rubio but by a team of crack speech writers, using their best arsenal of words. No, instead those viewers who do stay on to hear the Republican reply will be concentrating on the persona Rubio projects, his sincerity, his stature, and his passion for his subject. That’s why it’s his screen test.
Rubio in a prepared statement said he would he lay out “the Republican case of how our ideas can help people close the gap between their dreams and the opportunities to realize them.
“I’m honored to have this opportunity to discuss how limited government and free enterprise have helped make my family’s dreams come true in America,” Rubio said in a statement.
“Limited government and free enterprise are the very foundation of what makes America special and separates us from the world, particularly through our strong middle-class.”
Since his fast and surprising rise as a Republican star from the Florida state house speaker to the U.S. Senate (thanks to the enthusiastic endorsement of the Tea Party), the GOP has been grooming Rubio to be the next big thing. He was given a prominent place at the Republican National Convention’s podium and he crisscrossed America on behalf of Mitt Romney in his presidential bid.
Now he is working with the Senate bi-partisan group, which is crafting a proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to achieve citizenship after the border with Mexico is made secure. Legislation is expected to hit the Senate floor relatively soon.
However, there is a fly in the ointment. Another 2016 presidential hopeful will also be making his rebuttal to President Obama’s address, not for the Republicans, but for the Tea Party: Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul.
If anything can set even-tempered Rubio’s teeth on edge it has to be someone trying to steal his limelight. This was to be Rubio’s moment to be showcased, not overshadowed.
Thus his rebuttal has to be even better, edgier and memorable. He needs to drown out the Rand Paul response, making it as forgettable as Herman Cain’s was last year.
The Republicans are rooting for Rubio to hit one out of the park, establishing his bona fides. They are also hoping that by delivering his response in both English and Spanish that the Latino community will give their guy another look. Republicans desperately need Latino voters if they are to stay relevant. Last year Mitt Romney only got 27% of the Latino votes while Obama raked in 72% of their votes. That’s a big deficit to overcome.
But if Marco Rubio delivers the goods, it will be a good first step for the Republican Party towards that goal.
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