The Campaign Spot

Politics & Policy

The Times Rubio’s Political Career Nearly Ended Before It Started

From today’s Morning Jolt:

Stephen Miller with a pretty good observation: “His other strength is none of the potential GOP candidates have had the practice to run against someone like Clinton. Marco Rubio has, having dispensed limousine loving, ventriloquist dummy Charlie Christ to the political ash heap. Christ and Clinton are cut from the exact same elitist cloth, believing themselves entitled and destined, the voters be damned. Both of them have gotten creamed in elections staking out that position by someone an electorate found more charismatic and in tune with every day values.”

You can argue that Scott Walker ran against and beat a larger collective opponent in his recall election and, perhaps, his 2014 reelection bid. Ted Cruz might argue he was as big a long-shot when he began against David Dewhurst in the Texas Senate primary. Bobby Jindal’s early 20-point lead helped drive Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to not seek reelection, but she was seriously damaged goods after her bumbling response to Hurricane Katrina. And the one other caveat is that Rubio beat Crist in a three-way race in 2010. Having said that, you could argue Rubio beat Crist twice, once by driving him to quit the GOP primary and declare himself an independent, then again on Election Day.

Over on NRO’s home page, I take a look at Marco Rubio’s two years spent as Speaker of the Florida House – his management and leadership style, what he accomplished and what he left unfinished, and how he dealt with a thoroughly uncooperative Florida Senate and the shamelessly demagogic, opportunistic Crist.

As Speaker and in earlier leadership positions in the Florida House, Rubio demonstrated a willingness to delegate to focus on his strengths, communicating and negotiating. The record suggests that a President Rubio would drive a hard bargain, and hold out until the eleventh hour, but rarely walk away from the table without a deal.

The Speaker of the Florida House is an important and powerful position, but one perhaps a bit easier to reach than comparable positions in other states. Representatives in Florida are limited to four two-year terms. The Speaker of the House is elected by his fellow representatives for a two-year term, and is usually in his final term – meaning the Florida House is effectively led by a new speaker every two years.

Because of the term limits and constant turnover at the top, careers in the Florida state legislature accelerate quickly. The legislature works a brief, fast-paced schedule, a 60-day session starting in March, supplemented by occasional special sessions. The legislature is the GOP’s ballgame; Republicans have controlled the Florida House and Senate since 1996. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t often deep divisions; Rubio’s tenure as speaker exacerbated friction with the man who would later become his defeated Senate rival, then-governor Charlie Crist.


This is part of my new year’s resolution to attempt some actually useful campaign journalism, by digging into chapters of the GOP contenders’ lives that haven’t been covered extensively yet. The first offering was looking at Ted Cruz’s work for the Federal Trade Commission from 2001 to 2003, where he earned a reputation as a passionate boss intent on tracking the success of the office’s efforts in granular detail.

I had some material that didn’t quite fit in the Rubio piece. If you’re not a fan of Rubio, curse the heavens, because his political career came close to ending quite early.

For starters, he nearly lost his first Florida House election, coming in second in the first round and winning the runoff by 64 votes.

In his early years in the state legislature, he was skyrocketing in stature – he was named Majority Whip within his first nine months on the job – but going through extreme financial difficulties.

He was making $72,000 as an often-unavailable land use and zoning attorney at the now-defunct law firm Ruden McClosky and made $28,608 as a state legislator. Money was so tight for the young lawmaker and his wife and then-one child that he sold his car and moved in with his mother-in-law. In his autobiography, An American Son, Rubio writes he strongly contemplated leaving politics to focus on earning enough money to support his growing family.

A new job offer came along before Rubio finalized his decision to quit politics; in 2001, Rubio moved to Becker & Poliakoff to expand the firm’s practice in Miami-Dade, making $93,000 per year. By 2004, when Rubio was the Speaker-in-waiting, the law firm Broad and Cassel hired him at $300,000 per year.  


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