Marco Rubio resists being called the GOP “savior.”
But on Tuesday night, he’s the party’s chosen one.
The Florida senator was picked by Republican Party leaders to rebut President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address — and Rubio will do it in English and Spanish.
Rubio’s speech will be the first of its kind delivered in two languages.
That alone speaks volumes about Rubio’s key role in attracting Hispanics to the GOP and leading its immigration-reform efforts. It earned him a spot on the cover of Time magazine, which called him “the Republican Savior.”
“There is only one savior, and it’s not me,” Rubio responded on Twitter last week, closing his message with the hashtag “#Jesus.”
Democrats want to paint Rubio as an insincere opportunist in a party that doesn’t appeal to Hispanics on an array of policies, not just immigration.
In a conference call Monday, Democratic National Committee chair and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz criticized her fellow South Floridian, Rubio, for having “extreme” positions on budget cuts that are bad for everyone.
Like Obama’s speech, Rubio’s will be wide-ranging. It won’t focus on immigration alone, and might only touch on the subject.
Rubio often tries to be counter-intuitive. The more pundits expect him to talk about immigration, the less inclined he’ll be to do it. He’ll try to present conservative ideas in a new-sounding way to appeal to the middle class.
Also, Rubio chafes at being typecast. He doesn’t want to be the token Hispanic, crusading for immigration reform. Yet he’ll use the issue to his advantage.
To party leaders, Rubio isn’t so much a savior as a Moses figure to lead them out of self-imposed electoral bondage when it comes to Hispanics, the electorate’s fastest-growing segment.
Many Hispanics have long been troubled by the tone as well as the policies of Republicans, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
But now, a Miami-born son of immigrants will be talking to many of them in their native tongue. However one of his GOP colleagues, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, will deliver a rival Tea Party Express rebuttal, which party loyalists don't appreciate.
Rubio’s English address will be live for the major English-speaking networks. His pre-recorded Spanish-language version will appear in Spanish-language media.
Rubio wasn’t just tapped for the post due to his ethnicity and immigrant roots. Like Obama of a few years ago, he’s his party’s best speaker as well as its first minority senator who can command national media attention and mount a serious White House bid.
As one of the eight senators hammering out a bipartisan immigration plan, Rubio has been the Republican salesman-in-chief, earning plaudits from longstanding immigration-reform opponents like Rush Limbaugh, the most-influential commentator of the far right.
All of it inevitably fuels speculation about Rubio running for president in 2016.
For Rubio, the road to the White House from his West Miami home detours along the 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Marco Rubio has a long way to go,” said Joel Benenson, President Obama’s pollster.
“The challenge for someone like Senator Rubio is that if people view his efforts as genuine, authentic and an act of true leadership and he’s really able to play a significant role, that’s one thing,” Benenson said.