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Rubio Sets Sights on Presidency, and Bush

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Marco Rubio’s presidential bid poses two questions: First, how competitive will his campaign be? Second, which other contender will he hurt most?

The 43-year-old first-term Senator from Florida is scheduled to announce his candidacy today. He doesn’t register much in polls, but supporters insist that Rubio's attributes -- he's a Hispanic with youth, charisma and a can-do conservatism -- are the perfect prescription for what ails the Republican Party.

Rubio's legislative record is scant. His one achievement, a bipartisan immigration bill that cleared the Senate in 2013, died in the House. It may now be a liability both because it alienates the party's large bloc of immigration restrictionists and because Rubio backed away from his creation once it became clear that it was doomed.

His narrative is familiar: The son of poor immigrants (from Cuba) Rubio, through luck and pluck, made it big. “He’s got a good story, but I think he’s a one-trick pony,” said Fred Davis, a Republican strategist who is not currently working for a presidential campaign. Davis said he doubts that Rubio will break out of the crowded Republican field.

Rubio has spent months consulting with conservative policy experts. He is one of his party’s most outspoken national security hawks. Like other Republicans, he has proposed huge tax cuts, but Rubio's plan is more friendly to families, who would receive tax credits, while cutting the top income tax rate less than other Republican plans. (His plan would still be a big revenue loser.)     

Rubio, who appears to be assembling an effective campaign team, has impressed Republican policy mavens and donors with a sharp command of issues and the ability to articulate his positions.

Still, his campaign faces major challenges. He will be pressured from the right by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. In the end, Rubio might be better positioned as the voice of a future conservative establishment.

If he can secure such standing, ventured former Representative Thomas Davis, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rubio is likely to undermine the candidacy of fellow Floridian Jeb Bush.  Although Rubio rose in Florida politics as a protégé of the 62-year-old former governor, the two aren't as close as previously advertised.

Both Bush and Rubio have supported immigration reform and made appeals for support from the fast-growing Hispanic electorate. Some consider Rubio a formidable vice-presidential pick. Since the Republican ticket won't consist of two candidates from the same state, Rubio would have to run well in the primary to be considered a running mate. If he does, Bush won't be the nominee.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net