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Marco Rubio says he’s ready to be president — but will Republicans follow?

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There’s no doubt that one has to have giant stones to think they’re smart enough and charismatic enough to run the free world.

Marco Rubio falls into that category.

“I have heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn, ” Rubio said toward the end of his 18-minute-plus speech at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on Monday night. “But I cannot. Because I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake, and I can make a difference as president.”

Undoubtedly the biggest moment in his political career, Rubio seized the moment to try to sell a public that he’s not too green of a candidate to inherit the mantle of a credible commander in chief.

Team Rubio is selling his youth as a plus, and definitely wants to use it as weapon in a one-on-one comparison with the person who based on polls would become the next president if the national election were held tomorrow, Hillary Clinton.

“This election is not just about what laws we will pass. It is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” he said, segueing into his critique of the former First Lady and Secretary of State.

“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over, and we are never going back. We Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future. Before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America.”

He then added, “We can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past. We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.”

Although nobody in Miami and in Florida politics wants to imagine it, those lines could also be employed to batter Jeb Bush, should the race come down to the two Miami-area neighbors (though for the record Bush is officially not a candidate at this point).

There has always been a bit of Barack Obama in Rubio, though of course nobody associated with the Rubio camp would dare admit that. But the fact is that Obama broke the mold in terms of who is “too soon” to run for office. It was considered Hillary Clinton’s “turn” in ’08, but that didn’t matter, compared to Obama’s magnetic appeal.

Just like it’s considered her turn again, and just as some in the Republic world (especially in Florida) believe it’s Jeb Bush’s turn now.

Rubio says that in our fast-paced culture, we don’t need to wait so long to choose the best candidate. It’s the same calculus that Ted Cruz is utilizing. For all of Rubio’s “inexperience,” he has served two more years in the Senate than has the Texas firebrand.

Of course, it’s not supposed to be about  him, but about us.

So toward the conclusion of his speech, we heard about the American people who Rubio says currently have been beaten down and no longer see the American dream possible in their future or perhaps their children’s future.

“Whether or not we remain a special country will depend on whether that journey is still possible for those trying to make it now: The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has…The student who takes two buses before dawn to attend a better school halfway across town…The workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices … and the bartenders who tonight are standing in the back of a room somewhere,” he said.

“If their American Dreams become impossible, we will have become just another country,” he continued. “But if they succeed, the 21st Century will be another American Century. This will be the message of my campaign and the purpose of my presidency.”

Although there were mostly hardcore Rubio supporters who arrived hours in advance of the speech to get inside the Freedom Tower, some attendees told Florida Politics that it was still too early to commit to a candidate.

“I haven’t decided yet, so I want to hear him speak and hear where he stands on things,” said a man named Raymond from Aventura, Florida (he chose not to give us his full name). Although he called himself a political independent, he admitted that he most likely will go GOP next year.

Raymond said he liked Rubio’s youth, especially in contrast to Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

What was wrong with Bush, we asked?

“Because of the connection with the Bush family,” Raymond said, adding, “He’s a little older than what I’m looking for.”

A West Palm Beach resident named Marcus called Rubio one of his “top three” candidates, saying that he actually likes the two other official candidates in the contest, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Marcus said he liked the fact that all three were relatively  young senators, but he said Rubio’s gift of public speaking was what set him apart.

His wife Gabriella said she’s undecided as well, but prefers a Republican who “doesn’t play politics so much.”

“I see these guys, and they’re often talking a whole lot of nothing,” she said. “They’re not straight forward. I’m really looking for a candidate that’s real, that’s honest, that believes in what he’s saying, that believes in freedom for America.”

She said she thought Rubio could attract Democratic votes in a general election because of Hispanic support.

(On a side note, Gabriella said that she could not get behind Jeb Bush. One reason was his support of Common Core federal education standards.)

New College of Sarasota political science professor Frank Alcock calls Rubio one of the more intriguing candidates in the GOP field. He says he’s not sure how his candidacy will play out.

“It’s not hard to imagine him getting “boxed out” of the primary space by Bush vis-a-vis the establishment wing of the party and by one or more hard line conservatives with the Party’s base voters. So he could flop and it won’t shock many people.”

He adds that Rubio’s departure from conservative orthodoxy on a limited number of issues won’t hurt him all that much as he makes inroads with a broader range of party constituencies.

Meanwhile, Rubio returns to Washington tomorrow for a vote in the Senate having a chance to review the president’s nuclear deal with Iran, before hitting the stump, going to New Hampshire for a big GOP clambake later this week.

It should also be noted that though the GOP field is scattered, Rubio is nowhere near the top of any presidential poll. Neither was Ted Cruz, however, but that changed after he gave his speech announcing his candidacy two weeks ago.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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