Senator Marco Rubio’s surprisingly strong bronze-medal finish in last Monday’s Iowa Caucus — just one point behind silver medalist Donald Trump — cheered his fans and chilled Democrats. The Florida Republican is the last candidate they want to face next fall.
“When Marco Rubio speaks, young women swoon, old women faint, and toilets flush themselves,” said Dan Gelber, the Florida House’s Democratic leader while Rubio was its speaker.
“Rubio excites audiences that hear him,” a South Carolina Democratic strategist told Salon. “He’s an optimistic face on regressive policies — which makes him very dangerous.”
In his recent bestseller, Unlikeable: The Problem with Hillary, author Edward Klein cites a house guest and dinner companion of the Clintons who listened to Bill evaluate Hillary’s GOP rivals. “The Republican who worried him the most, Bill said, was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida,” Klein writes. He then quotes Bill’s opinion on Rubio: “He’s young, Hispanic, and a good speaker. . . . He’d pose a generational challenge and a challenge for the Hispanic vote, which we need to win. But he’s still largely unknown to the general public. We’ve got to destroy him before he gets off the ground.”
Rubio is buoyant and, as Bill Clinton predicted, a growing threat to his wife’s gargantuan ambitions. In the latest RealClearPolitics average of opinion polls for a hypothetical general-election matchup, Rubio beats Clinton 48 percent to 43, a five-point victory. Iowa Caucus winner Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas), defeats Clinton by one percentage point. Trump, meanwhile, loses to her by four points.
In RCP’s face-off, Rubio outpaces Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist., Vt.) by 1.5 points. Cruz loses to him by 1.5 points, and Trump by 7.7. So, Rubio appears to be the toughest Republican contender against either potential opponent.
Tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary will signal whether his uncharacteristic stumble during Saturday’s GOP debate slows his momentum or if Rubio remains on a roll.
#share#By nominating a candidate of Cuban ancestry, with an immigrant story as vivid as they come, Rubio obviously can appeal to Hispanics. He told ABC News last week that he wants to “take our conservative message to people that haven’t voted for Republicans in a long time.” Whether Americans with, say, Dominican, Mexican, or Salvadoran backgrounds will rally around someone with Cuban roots is an open question. Still, Hispanics of whatever flavor are likelier to warm to Rubio than to Trump, whose immigrant bashing is a recipe for catastrophe among that demographic.
Far more important, having Rubio atop the Republican ticket will neutralize the Democrats’ most powerful, albeit shopworn, weapon: the race card. The so-called Old White Man’s party will be unrecognizable under Rubio’s leadership. Democratic claims that a GOP win will unleash the Ku Klux Klan will sound laughable with Rubio barnstorming through swing states.
And if Democrats cannot paint the Republican nominee as a weekend cross-burner, nervous white voters who might be spooked by such lies will find it easier to cast GOP ballots.
Class warfare is another tool that Democrats use to divide America. Their accusations that “the GOP is the rich man’s party, and they don’t care about you” could stick to Trump, a conspicuous multi-billionaire. It is far harder to tar Cruz as a plutocrat, given his average upbringing. However, the fact that Cruz is married to a high-level Goldman Sachs executive might make him vulnerable to such charges.
#related#Rubio would be impervious to cries of “Richie Rich.” The son of a maid and a bartender, who speaks movingly about living paycheck to paycheck, cannot be caricatured as a heartless aristocrat. If Hillary Clinton dares to try this, Rubio will remind voters that she and her husband made $140 million in often-fishy transactions between 2007 and 2014.
Also important: Winning Florida’s 29 highly elusive Electoral College votes would take Rubio more than 10 percent of the way toward the 270-vote finish line.
Marco Rubio’s slogan is as sunny as the state he represents: “A New American Century.” If Republicans wisely nominate him, top Democrats should brace themselves for four years of darkness.