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Joe Henderson: Marco Rubio steps up his game

in 2017/Top Headlines by

Gwen Graham’s attempt to make Marco Rubio look bad may have fallen flat, but it does raise a couple of interesting points.

First, Democrats obviously still plan to make an issue of Rubio’s image as a detached and disinterested U.S. senator. You may recall that was a major point of contention last year when Rubio successfully ran for re-election.

But second, is Rubio doing enough in the early stages of his second term to put that question to rest?

Maybe. His performance – and especially that of his staff – during the recent hurricanes suggests he has gotten the message that being a senator requires than showing up at election time and asking for votes.

Graham, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, released a video last Friday that hit directly at Rubio’s detached image. With a camera rolling, Graham called Rubio’s office to urge him to vote against the pending health care bill in the senate.

The call went to voice mail. She left a message.

She called his offices around Florida. More voice mail. More messages. Apparently, she never reached a live human, and she punctuated that with a tweet that read: Senator @MarcoRubio, answer your phone.

Olivia Perez-Cubas, Rubio’s communications director, responded with a zinger that said the reason no one answered is because staffers were busy helping “over 10,000 people apply for FEMA assistance, not sitting behind desk waiting for a political stunt.”

She released pictures to back up her claim.

Boom!

Rubio also just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico to survey and report on damage, again with photos. And this was after he was highly visible, along with Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, going around Florida before Hurricane Irma struck. After the Keys were dealt a severe blow by Irma, Rubio was on the scene with Tim Tebow (!) to pass out ice to people in need.

Genius.

Rubio’s staff gets an A-plus during this time. And someone seems to have gotten through to Rubio that being a senator, especially in a crisis, requires visibility and action. We need to see these people. We need to hear from them.

The late former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons was renowned throughout Tampa for his rapid response to constituent needs. Nelson routinely returns to Florida to see what’s going on, and not just for fund-raisers.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also spends a lot of time back home, listening to concerns from the people who elected her.

Throughout his first term, Rubio basically blew off the job he was sent to Washington to do, concentrating instead on an ill-fated run for president. He moped that he didn’t like being a senator and even said he wouldn’t run for re-election before changing his mind.

He won a second term, but after six years his brand was that of an absentee representative. As Graham’s gambit showed, that can be a tough image to change.

Give Rubio credit for this much, though – at least he seems to be trying.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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