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Marco Rubio reply to State of the Union address: Can he meet expectations? (+video)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida will deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union address. He carries on his back the hopes of a party that lost badly among Latino voters in the presidential race.

By Staff writer / February 11, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida speaks with The Associated Press in his Capitol Hill office in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 7. Mr. Rubio, a rising star in the GOP, will deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union message on Tuesday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

Marco Rubio is the “it” man of the Republican Party.

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Monitor correspondent Liz Marlantes previews President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address.

The junior senator from Florida is Latino, young, articulate, and photogenic – and on Tuesday night, he will deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) message. In a first, he will give the speech in both English and Spanish.

On his back, Senator Rubio carries the hopes of a party that lost badly among Latino voters in the presidential race, winning just 27 percent. But Rubio represents more than just outreach to America’s fastest-growing ethnic minority: He is, Republicans hope, a bridge to other minorities who also fled Mitt Romney in droves.

Just as important as Rubio’s face and name will be his tone. He is the new “compassionate conservative.”

Can the man Time magazine dubbed the “Republican savior” and a leading prospect for the 2016 presidential race possibly deliver on such high expectations? It will be tough. Rubio himself responded to the Time cover with a tweet: "There is only one savior, and it is not me. #Jesus."

His quip projects a little humility – as well as faith (Roman Catholic), a Republican touchstone. But the pressure on him to score Tuesday night is still sky-high.

“He may not consider himself the savior, but he’s got to be the savior for at least one night,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of the conservative CivicForumPAC.

Exactly what that means, even just being a “one-night savior,” is open to interpretation. In a way, Rubio has already scored a small victory by taking some attention away from Mr. Obama’s address. SOTU response speeches are typically an afterthought that gets little to no notice.

Usually, the best-case scenario is that such speechmakers don’t mess up. The worst case is they look foolish. In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana was tapped to reply to Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress, right after his inauguration. Governor Jindal seemed perfect – a young, articulate minority (Indian-American) leader going up against the first black president. Instead, he was panned by even conservative pundits for both his words – “stale” rhetoric, said one – and his delivery, likened to Kenneth the page on the TV show “30 Rock.”

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