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Rubio Targets Fellow Conservatives on Immigration

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rubio has become the conservative defender of the Senate immigration bill drafted by the “gang of eight.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is running a campaign-style press operation to push an immigration overhaul, a fitting move for a politician who needs it to bolster a rumored 2016 presidential bid.

Rubio’s Senate office has adopted a rapid- response strategy similar to Obama for America’s vaunted 2012 tactics. The Florida Republican’s team, however, is focused on taking down what it believes to be rampant misinformation about a bipartisan immigration bill crafted by the senator and seven of his colleagues.

Rubio’s office has sent 14 “Fact vs. Myth” emails since April 17, including four that went out on April 18, when fellow GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and David Vitter of Louisiana held a rival news conference around the same time that the “gang of eight” introduced its bill. Rubio’s office declined to say how many staffers are working on the rapid response team, but a Republican source said there are eight aides helping with the effort.

In form, the emails look a lot like OFA’s incessant “FACT CHECK” missives that shed light on some of the 2012 campaign’s most important issues. In content, the multiple-times-per day emails have called out prominent conservative politicians, pundits and media outlets: Sessions, Vitter, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, RedState, Breitbart, The Wall Street Journal, Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus and Michelle Malkin.

And it’s drawing notice from Democratic and Republican operatives alike.

Immigration “is a big and complicated issue, and so we want to be very clear about what we are proposing and what we’re not proposing,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said. “In the current media environment, myth can spread very rapidly and so we want to make sure that people have the facts to make informed.

“We bust the myths as we see them,” Conant added when asked whether the emails were targeted at conservatives. “We’re not targeting anyone specifically. Our only goal here is to make sure that people have the facts when they’re covering and talking about immigration.”

According to multiple sources tracking the immigration debate, Rubio is perhaps the most important senator in lending the group’s effort enough conservative credibility to result in a final bill. Because Rubio’s future political aspirations will certainly be affected by the fate of the looming legislation, the proactive approach his team is taking is helping him take matters into his own hands.

Of course, with each email, Rubio’s commitment to the bill grows stronger. And in a town where perception is almost everything, a daily record of his defense of the bill and attacks on the conservatives trying to kill it is certainly building a perception.

“It’s the only way they’re going to get through what is a gauntlet of opposition,” one Republican aide said. “But every day they do it, the more committed they are to the final product.”

On Monday, RedState’s Erick Erickson went after Rubio’s staff for their aggressive approach with the conservative media. In the column “I Have Seen Shameful Things,” the conservative pundit accused the office of “playing games.”

“I am deeply, deeply disturbed by the games being played by pro-immigration advocates on the right, including staff in Senator Marco Rubio’s office, [Americans for Tax Reform’s] Grover Norquist and others,” Erickson wrote. “Rubio wants to do the right thing. I think he set before himself a good, but unpopular task. ... But I think the actions of some members of his staff coordinating attacks on solid conservatives is undermining the cause he and I both believe in.”

Not everyone sees Rubio’s staff work that way, however. Several sources said it is not only indicative of an awareness of the current national media environment, but also suggestive of the way he might run a national campaign, should he try to build one.

“It is rare to see a rank-and-file Senate office with as sophisticated a rapid-response operations as Sen. Rubio has,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly about a GOP senator. “But Sen. Rubio’s office is not a normal Senate office. They know what they are doing over there.”

Though conservative voices such as Erickson might not be comforted by the admiration of the left, solid rapid-response work was a signature of the 2012 election.

The flood of emails last fall, especially from Obama’s side, was enough to drive reporters on the trail crazy and overload their inboxes. Maybe it will work for Rubio, too.

“Each of the members brings something to the table — Sen. Rubio has been very effective and aggressive in explaining our proposals to conservative media. Busting myths and stopping the spreading of falsehoods is an important role and a role we’re going to continue,” Conant said. “Obviously it isn’t the only thing our office is doing ... but this is a priority for us and we’re going to keep doing it until it passes.”

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