2016 spoiler: Could Marco Rubio derail Jeb Bush?
Florida's junior senator hopes to gain momentum early on and carry it to the GOP presidential primary debates that begin this summer.
In 2008, a young upstart from Illinois, Barack Obama, derailed the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner with establishment ties and nearly global name recognition.
As he announces his candidacy Monday, does Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have what it takes to unseat the Republican party's own assumed frontrunner, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush?
At the very least, 2008 offers Governor Bush a lesson – and Senator Rubio a potential blueprint for victory.
He also has a compelling story. Rubio is the son of working class Cuban immigrants (his mother was a maid, his father a bartender) who speaks openly about his Cuban heritage and is already generating interest about the possibility of another historic election, this time the country's first Latino president.
Like Obama, Rubio will likely play up his youth (he's 43) to present an optimistic, forward-thinking vision for the GOP, in contrast to Bush, whose name conjures images of the past for many voters.
And unlike Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who declared last week, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is considering a run, Rubio is widely seen as one of the field's most personable candidates, a politician who knows how to work a crowd and is seen as broadly acceptable to many factions within the party.
From 30,000 feet, then, Rubio's position in 2016 bears some resemblance to Obama's in 2008.
"Marco has a tremendous fluency with the conservative movement that he demonstrated time and again in 2009 when he was the guy with no chance, no hope, no nothing," Tallahassee-based Republican strategist Rick Wilson told the Palm Beach Post in an article entitled, "Rubio may be spoiler in White House bid."
In fact, Rubio's no stranger to upset victories. He pulled one off in Florida's 2010 Senate race, when the widely popular Republican governor Charlie Crist appeared to be the inevitable choice for the GOP nomination – until the young unknown Rubio came along and nabbed the nomination, and the Senate seat.
Of course, a Senate race is not a presidential race, and from the outset, Rubio's bid would be an uphill battle. He has not yet completed his first term in the Senate, he has no executive experience, and he's lost ground since his support, in 2013, of an immigration reform bill backed by Obama that called for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Perhaps most concerning, however, is his low popular support. Many GOP candidates poll better than Rubio nationally and in key battleground states.
Rubio found his early support in the tea party movement. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom have announced their candidacies, are now more popular with tea party voters.
And as the Palm Beach Post points out, a Real Clear Politics report aggregating recent GOP polls shows Rubio in a distant seventh place among Republican hopefuls, with single-digit support. He's behind Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sens. Cruz and Paul – as well as former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who are widely expected to announce their presidential bids.
That's not to say he doesn't have a chance. As NBC News points out, "Bush is not dissimilar to Clinton in 2007: a front-runner who is vulnerable both because of issue positions (Iraq for Clinton, immigration for Bush) and because some in the party are weary of picking the dynastic candidate."
Bush is arguably no less flawed than Rubio: for his last name, his brother's controversial tenure, and because it's been more than ten years since he's last won an election. That may help explain why his "unfavorable rating" is the steepest in the race.
Rubio recognizes the weaknesses of Bush, a mentor he once called "a gold standard" for Republicans, and has shown that he can use them against his old friend. In a pre-launch Web video, Rubio calls for “A New American Century," and presents 2016 as a generational battle between an older brand of leadership versus a fresher, younger one.
Not unlike the "hope" and "change" promised by a young, fresh-faced candidate in 2008 who went on to become the next president of the United States.