Marco Rubio is the it man of the Republican Party.
The junior senator from Florida is Latino, young, articulate, and
photogenic and on Tuesday night, he will deliver the GOP response
to President Obamas State of the Union (SOTU) address. In a first,
he will give the speech in both English and Spanish.
On his back, Senator Rubio carries the hopes of a party that lost
badly among Latino voters in the presidential race, winning just 27
percent. But Rubio represents more than just outreach to Americas
fastest-growing ethnic minority: He is, Republicans hope, a bridge
to other minorities who also fled Mitt Romney in droves.
Just as important as Rubios face and name will be his tone. He is
the new compassionate conservative.
Can the man Time magazine dubbed the Republican savior and a
leading prospect for the 2016 presidential race possibly deliver on
such high expectations? It will be tough. Rubio himself responded to
the Time cover with a tweet: "There is only one savior, and it is
not me. #Jesus."
His quip projects a little humility as well as faith (Roman
Catholic), a Republican touchstone. But the pressure on him to score
Tuesday night is still sky-high.
He may not consider himself the savior, but hes got to be the
savior for at least one night, says Ford OConnell, chairman of the
Exactly what that means, even just being a one-night savior, is
open to interpretation. In a way, Rubio has already scored a small
victory by taking some attention away from Mr. Obamas address. SOTU
response speeches are typically an afterthought that gets little to
Usually, the best-case scenario is that such speechmakers dont
mess up. The worst case is they look foolish. In 2009, Gov. Bobby
Jindal (R) of Louisiana was tapped to reply to Obamas first address
to a joint session of Congress, right after his inauguration.
Governor Jindal seemed perfect a young, articulate minority (Indian-
American) going up against the first black president. Instead, he
was panned by even conservative pundits for both his words stale
rhetoric, said one and his delivery, likened to Kenneth the Page on
the TV show 30 Rock.
For Jindal, that episode remains a lingering negative as he
reportedly considers his own 2016 presidential run. Contrast that
with Obamas national debut, his speech at the Democratic National
Convention in 2004, or even Rubios address at the 2012 Republican
National Convention introducing Mr. Romney.
Last August, Rubio arguably gave the best speech of the whole
Tampa, Fla. …