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Monday, April 13, 2015

How Marco Rubio's optimism and pop culture fluency will give him a generational edge in 2016.

MIAMI, Florida — When Hillary Clinton became First Lady of Arkansas in 1979, Marco Rubio was 8 years old and likely still hanging onto some of his baby teeth.
Fourteen years later, Clinton ascended to the White House with her husband while Rubio was racking up student debt as a political science undergrad at the University of Florida.

And in early 2000, as Clinton made plans to parlay her high-profile East Wing perch into a U.S. Senate candidacy — thus formalizing the arrival of America’s newest political dynasty — 28-year-old Rubio was a small-town city commissioner running for state legislature in Florida, where he earnestly touted his role in establishing West Miami’s first bike cop as the “cornerstone” of his campaign.

The generational contrast between Rubio, 43, and Clinton, 67, will be front and center in the media this week as TV newscasts fill with split-screen images of the two candidates launching their presidential bids within 24 hours of each other. Democrats widely view their presumptive nominee’s long record of government service and accompanying gravitas as a distinct advantage, enabling her to overshadow the GOP’s field of fresh faces and first-termers. But inside the tight circle of advisers and confidantes plotting Rubio’s 2016 campaign, the senator’s age is being treated as one of his deadliest electoral weapons — and one they won’t wield against Clinton alone.

In interviews with multiple Republicans familiar with Rubio’s strategy — including senior advisers, as well as donors and consultants who have been courted by his team — the candidate’s youth was repeatedly identified as a key 2016 selling point, and one that could help distinguish him from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the early favorite among GOP elites.

Rubio, said one adviser, will not be “competing for who can be the whitest, oldest rich guy” in the Republican field. Instead, they will cast him as a symbol of America’s future — a son of working-class immigrants, whose fluency in both Spanish and contemporary pop culture sets him apart from the flabby, boomer-built political establishment.

Eager to maintain the optimism that has long permeated Rubio’s political identity, his team will work to keep direct attacks on fellow Republicans to a minimum for as long as possible. They are particularly wary of blasting away at Bush, since the former governor has been widely portrayed in the media as Rubio’s “mentor” — a characterization they contest — and they worry that any explicit attacks from their campaign would play in the press as a personal betrayal by an overly ambitious protege. Instead, Rubio’s team will seek to draw generational contrasts with Bush in the primaries by using Clinton as a proxy target.

Rubio’s personal identity and future-tense campaign message are built into the backdrop he selected for his announcement here Monday evening. He plans to speak in front of the Miami Freedom Tower, the site where Cuban refugees first arrived in the 1960s when they were coming to the United States. “To me, it’s a place that’s symbolic of the promise of America,” Rubio told the Miami Herald.

The contours of his pitch were clear in a video released last week by his campaign, which featured a five-minute montage of the candidate’s sunny, soaring rhetoric condemning the politics of the past — the “Obama-Clinton foreign policy” in particular — and then promising “a new American century.” In a country where 60% of the electorate says the U.S. is on the “wrong track,” Rubio’s team is betting that a dynamic, young, Latino candidate will hold more appeal than a dynastic heiress or heir. (Continues)

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