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Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t running for president in 2012 and vows to reject any offer to run for vice president. But the Florida Republican understands that the buzz and the questions won’t subside, and he is happy to use the national platform they provide to push his agenda.
“If people want to pay attention to what I have to say because of the speculation? I haven’t thought about that. But I also hope it’s because we have something meaningful to contribute to this debate — that we’ll be a voice that has a meaningful role to play,” Rubio said Wednesday during an interview in his new office in the Hart Senate Office Building. “Every election cycle — quite frankly, every six months in this process — produces some flavor of the month. What ultimately matters is what you’ve done, how hard you’ve worked, the contribution you’ve made to the public debate.”
The presidential chatter surrounding Rubio began early in his upstart Senate primary campaign against then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Conservatives and tea party activists in Florida and across the country were captivated by the Cuban-American — who cultivated national support when endorsements at home were hard to find — and began talking about him as a White House contender long before it was clear he would chase the once-formidable Crist out of the Republican Party and win the 2010 Senate race.
Perhaps because of this experience, Rubio and a seasoned team that includes operatives who have advised presidential candidates have spent the first few months of the 112th Congress focused on Florida and local issues. The former state Speaker has declined several invitations to keynote Republican events in other states, part of his strategy to prove to Floridians that he did not view the Senate as an inconvenient stepping stone to higher office.
Simultaneously, those close to Rubio recognize that he can use his status as a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate to garner useful attention. Countering President Barack Obama on fiscal and foreign policy issues were among the major themes of Rubio’s Senate campaign, and when he announced recently his position on Libya and conditions for voting to raise the debt ceiling, the national media offered him more coverage than they would the typical freshman.
Rubio said the Senate provides him with enough of a platform, and that it is only natural for him to hone in on national issues given the size and diversity of Florida and how each of these matters affect his home state. He declined to complain about the White House speculation.