Early Political Career:
2010 US Senate Bid:
In 2008, US Senator Mel Martinez announced he would not run for re-election. This prompted Rubio to leave his post as House Speaker and seek the GOP nomination. An initial poll had Rubio at just 4% in the Republican primary, almost 50 points behind popular Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Crist was expected to easily win the primary over Rubio and he led by double digits for most of 2009. However, as the tea party movement kicked into high gear, “establishment” choices suddenly became vulnerable.
Rubio’s strong conservative message began to resonate with voters, and although Crist had the backing of the Republican Party, Rubio eventually caught up to and then surpassed Crist in the polls. In early 2010, once it became evident that he was now going to lose to Rubio in the primary, Crist began moderating his positions and vetoing popular legislation. Subsequently, he dropped out of the Republican Primary and launched an independent bid.
While there were signs that Crist could possibly win as an independent by gaining just enough Democrat, Republican, and independent voters, Rubio proved too formidable an opponent. In a 3-way race, Rubio was able to gain an impressive 49% of the vote despite being opposed by both a Democrat and a popular governor running as an independent. Rubio’s victory was one of the highlights for the conservative movement in 2010.
2012 VP Speculation:
After winning his senate seat in 2010, Rubio instantly surged into the national spotlight and whispers of higher office emerged. While there were some hopes that Rubio might even run for president in 2012, the general consensus was that he would be a top-tier pick for vice-president. In this role, Rubio could build experience and stature for a future White House run.
Rubio is also one of the few Republicans liked both by tea party activists as well as “the establishment.” While he has had the support of tea party groups since challenging Charlie Crist, he has also since been touted as vice-president material by Karl Rove, Jeb Bush, and many other long-time GOP insiders. This has helped Rubio’s appeal as a candidate following the 2008 selection of Sarah Palin as the GOP vice-presidential nominee. While Palin was very popular among conservative activists, party insiders seemed less-than-thrilled about her being chosen as the party nominee.