Freshman Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been charming the pants off conservatives lately. A professed Tea Partier who killed it in a three-way race last November, he's stayed loyal to the most fiscally conservative branch of the Republican party. He's paid lip service to deficit hawks, CEOs, and social conservatives alike. He's a first generation Cuban-American whose pulled-up-by-the-bootstraps story could tug at anyone's heartstrings. He's charismatic, well-spoken, and only 40 years old. He even rescued Nancy Reagan from falling at a West Coast appearance at the Reagan Presidential Library on Tuesday night. The rumors are swirling: will Marco Rubio be the GOP pick for vice president?
Some are worried he's a little green, and Rubio swears a 2012 run is not in the cards, but he's nevertheless becoming a national conservative figure. And the timing couldn't be better for the GOP. Both conservative and liberal pundits have long framed Latinos as an election game-changer. Even though the majority of Hispanics still lean Democratic, the Latino immigrant story and Catholic tradition often fit right into conservative rhetoric. As of now, the GOP hasn't done much to take advantage of this. But getting Rubio on board would be a major move toward courting Latinos.
Rubio is a conservative dream. He's as right-wing as they come, even on issues of immigration. He credits America's free enterprise system for Hispanics' upward mobility and criticizes the Obama administration for choking their opportunities. Rubio mirrors the path of Allen West, Michele Bachmann, and others who are the minority in their party: He may look different, but he can roll with the most rightwing party die-hards. Unlike African-Americans or women, though, his demographic group is growing—by a lot.
This isn't to say that voters automatically support the candidate who looks like them. Sarah Palin's presence on the 2008 ticket, for instance, didn't make more women vote Republican. But Hispanics are starting to lose faith in the Obama administration. A recent poll shows that their solid support for Obama has declined, and that only 38 percent of Latinos are certain to vote for Obama in 2012, down from 49 percent just a couple of months ago. The poll was taken before the Obama administration announced its new policy on deportation, but there's been little progress in the last three years on one of Hispanics' top priorities: immigration reform. There have been more undocumented immigrants deported under Obama than Bush. The DREAM Act, overwhelmingly supported by Latinos, has failed to pass. Latino advocacy groups are calling out Obama for not tackling the issue.
Above all, though, Latinos are worried about the dismal economy, and they, like a lot of Americans, feel the government hasn't done anything about it. Rubio is well aware that the economy has usurped immigration as Latino voters' number one issue, and he stays on script by saying the Obama administration has made our problems worse. Obama is in the midst of finally rolling out a jobs plan. But he needs to step up his game—on immigration and the economy. Every Obama voter knows our economic problems haven't been fixed, and Rubio won't be the only one trying to woo them with that message.