Could U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio win back the White House for the Republicans?
Some political experts think so, describing the Florida lawmaker as a candidate who has the support of the party’s conservative base, but who also has crossover appeal.
Rubio, who is said to be seriously leaning toward running for president in 2016, has earned credibility with both so-called establishment Republicans, and the party’s conservative faction, which has wielded considerable influence in recent national and local elections, especially during the all-important primaries.
“Marco Rubio is one of the best organized” in terms of political campaigns, Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership and the former chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship under George W. Bush, told Fox News Latino recently.
“He’s very conservative, and we need a good candidate who is truly conservative,” Aguilar said. “He will attract the base, but at the same time he can attract independent voters. He has always had establishment Republican support, and the support of tea party groups.”
That kind of appeal among various factions within the GOP, Aguilar said, is particularly important at a time when there is a division in the party.
“That’s what also makes him so attractive” as a candidate, Aguilar said.
Bolstering Aguilar's argument is an informal straw poll the Republican senator from Florida won that took place at the Koch brothers conference in California this past weekend.
Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, said that Rubio’s consideration of running for president is exciting for conservative groups such as his.
“[Rubio] has a message that resonates beyond the immediate party base,” Budowich said. “That’s what we are looking for in candidates – someone who articulates the conservative message in a powerful way, who can bring in new constituencies and put together a campaign that moves the party and moves the country forward.”
Some presidential nominees who successfully appealed to people beyond their party's traditional followers have included Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, Budowich noted.
At the end of last week, several media outlets, including Fox News Latino, quoted senior aides for Rubio, 43, as saying that he’s preparing to launch a 2016 presidential campaign and has told his team to “proceed as if he is running for president,” according to ABC News.
Rubio is skipping some Senate votes this week to engage in fundraising in California, Texas and Illinois. Published reports also note that a promotional tour for his new book is taking him through every single one of the early primary states.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has also made a major financial hire. Anna Rogers, the finance head for Karl Rove's American Crossroads group, will start working for Rubio's Reclaim America PAC and would likely become his campaign's finance chair if the senator were to run.
Some political observers believed that if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, long seen as a mentor to Rubio, decided to run for president – something that he's indicated he's considering doing – that Rubio would refrain from tossing his hat into the ring out of loyalty, and also because Rubio’s base in Florida would be splintered between the two candidates.
But the rising GOP star has stated several times that he would make his decision regardless of any other candidate.
"I believe that if I decide to run for president, we have a path to be a very competitive candidate, and ultimately to win," Rubio told a group of 300 supporters on Miami's South Beach.
"I can't guarantee a victory. Certainly these races will be very competitive, and there's factors outside of our control that will determine a lot of it," he said. "But if we made the decision to run for president, I believe that we can put together the organization and raise the money necessary to win."
At the same time, he is trying to keep longtime donors and establishment-minded supporters from shifting loyalties toward Jeb Bush, or the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who is also moving toward a third White House bid.
"Jeb Bush is going to be a very credible candidate. I think he's going to raise a lot of money," Rubio has said. "He's got an extraordinary network of donors around the country and I know he'll be a strong candidate if he runs."
Though many political observers, and certainly Rubio observers, are not surprised that he is sounding more bells about running in 2016, some are taken aback by his willingness to do so while Jeb Bush also is leaning toward trying for a third Bush presidency.
“It’s been long anticipated” that Rubio would seriously consider a presidential run, said Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi, managing partner at the Bendixen and Amandi research firm in Miami. “However, I’m a little surprised that he would risk ruining a relationship with Jeb Bush and set off a civil war within the Republican Party.”
Rubio pulled off a stunning victory in 2009, when he challenged former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who at the time was a Republican, for the U.S. Senate seat left open by Mel Martinez.
Rubio, who was initially seen as an underdog, beat Crist and then his Democratic opponent, Kendrick Meek. In 2012, he often was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, and reportedly was on GOP nominee Mitt Romney's short list.
Amandi is not convinced about Rubio’s ability to pull together conservative, establishment GOP or broad Latino support for his candidacy.
“I think he could potentially be a strong candidate in the future but not at this time,” Amandi said. “His brand within the GOP deteriorated considerably, and he is seen with mistrust among Hispanic voters.”
Amandi said Rubio had begun to garner the interest of Latinos after he took a leadership role in the bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in 2013.
But after the effort stalled in the House, and Rubio underwent some backlash by conservative groups that objected to the Senate bill’s provisions allowing some undocumented immigrants to have a path to legal status, the Florida senator virtually dropped the issue he had focused on nearly daily until that point.
“He doubled down on the difficult relationship with Latinos,” Amandi said.
Aguilar, however, sees it differently.
Rubio’s seizing of the immigration issue, he said, was “courageous.”
“People said he back-pedaled after that, but he didn’t,” Aguilar said.
“He qualified his position, he just wanted to lead on the issue and get it moving,” he said. “When the House started moving toward a piecemeal approach to immigration, he said he agreed with that.”
Who would be a good running mate for a prospective presidential nominee Marco Rubio?
Aguilar thinks a governor would be ideal, instead of a fellow member of Congress.
He suggested someone like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is weighing a presidential run himself. Walker would help Rubio get support in the Midwest, Aguilar said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also would bolster a Rubio ticket, Aguilar said, bringing with him the not-so-small benefit of Texas voter support.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.