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Rubio’s Strategy: No Spotlight, Yet

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Rubio has taken his time and been deliberate in his transition to Washington. He has yet to give his maiden speech on the Senate floor — a rite of passage for all freshmen. And after a long and extensive search for a chief of staff, Rubio announced just last week he hired Cesar Conda, a former Hill aide and lobbyist described as a policy wonk.

Also last week, Rubio was appointed to the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, nearly a week after traveling to Afghanistan with a group of lawmakers that included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican Party chairman and Rubio supporter, said that if Rubio paid attention to all of the requests by national media, he would not have time to “spend in his state delivering his message [and] spend time developing deeper bonds with his supporters.”

Cardenas added that unlike Senators from smaller states, Rubio has 13 media markets in Florida alone to keep him busy and that the time to have a national profile could come later.

“That’ll come in due time,” he said. “First he needs to focus on being the best Senator he can be and keep in touch with [his constituents].”

The young, conservative former Speaker of the Florida House exploded onto the national scene last year as the alternative to then-Gov. Charlie Crist in the GOP Senate primary. What began as an underfunded long-shot campaign transformed into a highly sophisticated operation after Rubio began to draw support from national conservatives — DeMint being a key early figure — and groups.

After Rubio posted jaw-dropping fundraising numbers, it became clear that Crist could not win the Republican nomination, and he launched an Independent bid that ultimately imploded. Rubio won the three-way contest with 49 percent, with Crist garnering 30 percent and former Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) capturing 20 percent.

At 39, Rubio is the second-youngest member of the Senate and the chamber’s only Hispanic Republican.

Harris said the decision to focus on Florida was made before Rubio won the competitive three-way Senate race.

“We knew if Marco won, the spotlight on him would start shining on Wednesday morning and so this was something we had to think about,” he said.

Diaz-Balart said Rubio is a natural magnet for national attention and speculation for higher office — including having his name already dropped in the 2012 vice presidential mix — regardless of whether he wants it.

“He is exceedingly eloquent and inspirational, but what makes him special is he’ll learn the process and the issues,” Diaz-Balart said. “He gets it because of his great abilities.”

Rubio’s future in the party began to be discussed among politicians and pundits before he took the oath of office — predictions that Harris dismissed.

“It’s not the voters of Florida’s fault that the national press endlessly speculates about Marco’s future,” he said. “We go out of the way to be accessible to Florida press to talk about what he’s doing.”

Harris added that one of the things that has drawn the press to Rubio is his ability to say something thoughtful when it matters.

“He doesn’t have anything to say right now,” he said. “Until there is a message he wants to communicate, going on national television is just contributing to the noise.”

Correction: Jan. 31, 2011

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