Opponents race to define Marco Rubio as the true candidate of ‘yesterday’

Days after he launched a presidential campaign that declared “yesterday is over,” Sen. Marco Rubio’s positions on a number of issues have provided an opening for opponents.
Days after he launched a presidential campaign that declared “yesterday is over,” Sen. Marco Rubio’s positions on a number of issues have provided an opening for opponents. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Is Marco Rubio the face of the future?

Days after he launched a presidential campaign that declared “yesterday is over,” the Florida Republican’s positions on a number of issues have provided an opening for opponents.

Rubio, 43, faces changing public opinion on gay marriage, climate change and Cuba, among other topics, including increasing the minimum wage. Social media has lit up with criticism of him on those points.

“It is a contradiction somewhat that he’s projecting himself as the candidate of the future but some of his positions are not in tune at all with people in his age group and younger,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The attention being paid to Sen. Rubio, whose announcement speech Monday wowed even Democrats, shows both the scrutiny he’s going to receive and the legitimate shot he has in the 2016 contest.

His positions will not hurt him in the GOP primary. But if Rubio gets the nomination and works to attract nontraditional Republican constituencies, including young voters, those stances could give presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a way to offset Rubio’s attacks that she is an anachronism.

“For a guy who just yesterday said he wanted to be a new leader and usher in a new American century, it sure sounds like Marco Rubio is clinging to an outdated foreign policy relic from the Cold War,” Mo Elleithee, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Tuesday after Rubio blasted President Barack Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list.

Polls show more Americans, including a growing number of Cuban-Americans, support normalizing relations with the island country. Rubio has said that if he’s elected, he’d reverse the Obama administration policies.

“I think U.S. policy towards Cuba is a major leverage point that we can use to help the Cuban people achieve freedom for themselves,” he said in an interview with NPR that aired Tuesday.

That same day Rubio went on CNN and host Jake Tapper pointedly called Rubio the candidate of “yesterday” when it comes to opposition to gay marriage.

Again, polls show a majority of young Americans, including Republicans, support the right to same-sex marriage.

“I think there’s still a significant number of Americans that believe that the definition of marriage should be that of one man and one woman, as it has been for thousands of years,” Rubio told Tapper.

“But they are a minority,” Tapper replied.

“Well, they’re a large minority. In essence, there are still parts of this country that believe that way,” Rubio said, adding that if people want to change those laws, they should petition their legislatures.

Rubio has tried to have a foot in both sides of the debate, saying tolerance is needed for gays but also those who believe in traditional marriage. He says states should decide the issue.

On Wednesday, Rubio told Univision he would attend a gay wedding: “If it’s somebody in my life that I care for, of course I would. I’m not going to hurt them simply because I disagree with a choice they’ve made.”

Outside the Freedom Tower, where Rubio made his campaign official on Monday, protesters waved signs calling him a “climate denier.” The issue is big in Miami because studies show the city it is one of the most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

A recent poll showed an “overwhelming” majority of the American public, including half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming.

Rubio has questioned man’s contribution to global warming and the science around the debate. He has said the climate has always changed and he is concerned about the cost regulations.

While much of the criticism is contained for now to social media, Rubio was targeted this week in a Spanish-language radio ad, airing in Miami and Denver, that played up his rightward shift on immigration and opposition to increasing the minimum wage. A CNNMoney “American Dream” poll released last June showed 71 percent of Americans support a higher minimum wage, including 54 percent of Republicans.

Rubio has said increasing the minimum wage could cause employers to trim jobs and adds he supports increasing job training and access to education so people can earn more.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told the Tampa Bay Times: “The idea that you have to be liberal to be 'new’ is an insult to the word 'new.’ ”

“The truth is that we are facing new challenges, and Marco has offered more new ideas than anyone else in the race. On issues ranging from higher education to poverty to taxes and regulations, Marco has proposed a detailed new agenda to help Americans confront the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st Century.”

Sabato said Rubio would have one thing going for him amid a Democratic campaign to portray him as out of step: Voters may not pay too much attention to the issues. “They can just glance at the TV and get the image of youth from Rubio.”

Contact Tampa Bay Times Washington Bureau Chief Alex Leary at aleary@tampabay.com. Follow @learyreports