Editor’s Note: This profile of Marco Rubio was originally published at CatholicAdvocate.com on February 8, 2010.
By Deal W. Hudson
Move over Sarah Palin – the GOP has a new star on the rise! Former speaker of the Florida house, Marco Rubio, has pulled twelve points ahead of Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the GOP senatorial race.
Although the election is not until August, some political observers are speculating Crist will pull out of the race in time to get back in it as a Democrat or an Independent. Crist’s support has fallen from 53 percent in August to 37 percent as of February 1.
Rubio’s rise has been so meteoric he was pictured on the cover of New Times Magazine (1/6/10) under the headline, “The First Senator from the Tea Party?” The answer to that question, in my opinion, is “No” for several reasons. The first being the article’s implication that Rubio’s candidacy is appealing to some sort of extreme political element, when, in fact, Rubio is a fiscal and social conservative with strong appeal to moderates and independents.
Only 38 years old, Rubio, the son of a bartender and maid, is the father of four young children. When I met him for dinner a few weeks ago in DC, Rubio left the table to call home and tell his children ‘goodnight’ just before bedtime. Rubio, from the Cuban community of Miami, obviously didn’t do this for show — he often spoke in a self-effacing way about his wife, Jeanette, who reminds him to take out the garbage and “move those boxes.”
A few days ago I caught up with Rubio as he drove from Miami to Melbourne for a series of four appearances on the Friday before the Super Bowl. Football (Dolphins & Gators), by the way, is one of Rubio’s few hobbies. A former high school and college defensive back, he would play flag football on the weekends, when he had time. “I read a lot, “ Rubio says, “Right now I am reading, Peggy Noonan’s When Character Matters.”His choice of reading didn’t surprise me.
The old-fashioned virtues are important to Marco Rubio. His home, in a working class neighborhood of West Miami, is close to the home his parent’s bought in 1984 after moving back from Las Vegas. “The neighborhood is just home, close to my family, where I grew up, and where I feel comfortable.”
Cubans are known for having close ties to their families. For Rubio, being a father is the “most important” job he has. “As my kids gets older, if I get that job wrong I will regret it the rest of my life.” His children, ages 2 through 9, are two boys and two girls. His wife, Jeanette Dousdebes Rubio, a Miami Dolphins’ cheerleader in 1997, was born in Miami to Columbian parents.
Rubio doesn’t think the surge of support for his candidacy is about him personally:
“I think it’s about our message. On multiple fronts, the American people think this administration is going in the wrong direction. They want to elect people to go to Washington, stand against this agenda, and offer a clear alternative.”
The Obama administration, for Rubio, lacks a belief in what has made this country the most free and prosperous country in history, the American free enterprise system. “The White House,” he argues, “has enacted policies that hurt the environment for business. Government should help investment,” Rubio explains, “with a reasonable tax policy, predictable, without an overly burdensome regulatory system — one that ensures the public safety and welfare.”
He points out that Gov. Crist praised Obama’s stimulus package. Rubio opposed it because he doesn’t believe that government should be spending money “we don’t have,” adding, “The debt we are saddling our children with is unconscionable.”
For Rubio, Obama’s lack of awareness of how his policies are impacting individuals and families also explains the negative reaction to health care reform. “People are reacting to the notion that the state is going to be in charge of another aspect of our lives.” Everyone understands that people need broader health insurance, but they are “not prepared to turn over their liberties to get it — they don’t want to live in such a country.”
Rubio has not been shy about mentioning his Catholic faith on the campaign trail. He told me that he hasn’t met any objections: “I don’t think my views should offend anyone — you can’t force religious views on anybody, but it’s an essential part of who I am, how I view the world, how I try to live, and part of that is we are all flawed and need forgiveness.”
We talked briefly about Catholic politicians who are elected and then cave in on issues like abortion, euthanasia, and the protection of marriage. “I have a consistent record on those issues, and they are not going to change with the polls or the times. Roe is morally and constitutionally wrong and should be overturned. Marriage is between a man and woman; it is the cornerstone of society, the best way to raise children, the product of a thousand years of wisdom.”
For Rubio, his pro-life convictions are the “cornerstone” of everything else. “A society that does not respect the sanctity of life cannot make sense of anything else, and it leads to absurd and dangerous policies.” Without a belief in protecting preborn life, “the entire society is endangered, and social justice cannot be the outcome of such an unjust system.”
As the son of Cuban exiles, Rubio’s core beliefs were shaped, not just by his Catholic upbringing, but by his parents’ stories, and the stories of many in the Cuban community of Miami.
“We are not just immigrants, we are immigrants of a unique kind –- the Cuban exile community has a real passion for liberty because we know that politics matters and has consequences. This awareness runs through the veins of our community, that liberty is not something that is self-perpetuated.”
Yes, Rubio is articulate. He still has the dash and charm of a young man. But he’s a seasoned politician, having just finished eight years in the Florida legislature rising to Majority Whip, Majority Leader, and Speaker of the House.
Keep your eye on Rubio; he’s got a personality, quickness of mind, and fearlessness, not often found in politics.