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How Marco Rubio is trying to turn his sip slip into a political win

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is trying to turn water into water bottles. Literally.

In the 30-plus hours since Rubio’s awkward swig of water toward the end of his much-hyped response to President Obama’s State of the Union, the Florida senator has swiftly moved to turn an unexpected glitch to his advantage.

Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) awkward swig. (AP)

Let’s be clear: Rubio’s apparent bout of dry mouth, which seemed to get worse and worse until he suddenly reached for water minutes later was, well, awkward. Really awkward. And it stole some attention away from the words he was speaking in one of the biggest speeches of his career.

But the aftermath of the episode has demonstrated Rubio’s political savvy. In his Wednesday interviews, the Republican took it all in stride. Rubio's message was that he too was chuckling about the incident.

“I figured I was better off taking that water and taking the hit for it than being unable to pronounce my words at the end of it,” he told Fox News. On CBS, he said with a chuckle: “It had been a long day of work, had already taped an 18-minute speech in Spanish, so I’m just glad the water was nearby. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

He's also been raising money off of Tuesday night, offering water bottles branded with his name for donations of $25 or more. The fundraising email his PAC sent out singled out the "liberals and the pundits" who have been drawing attention to the water bottle, a clear effort to resonate with the conservative base.

And finally, Rubio's been laughing at himself via Twitter:


Rubio is the Republican Party’s marquee figure right now, and as such, everything he does – both good and bad – will be scrutinized extra closely. If he ends up running for president, we’ll look back at Tuesday night as an early test of his ability to cope with unanticipated developments.

So far, he’s holding his own. Politicians are going to mess up every now and again. Period. It’s just going to happen. The talented ones can turn an unfortunate incident on its head, show some humility, humanity, and humor, and ultimately put it behind them.

After Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) delivered a widely panned response to Obama’s first speech before a joint session of Congress in 2009, he never really engaged the public in its aftermath the way Rubio is doing now. That speech might not have damaged Jindal’s long-term political prospects, but it followed him for a while in a way that could have been avoided had he reacted differently afterward.

Part of Rubio’s swift political rise is due to the relatable personality he projects. He’ll chat in detail about rap music, likes movies you might find in a college freshman’s collection, and has demonstrated a sense of humor. In other words, he hasn't been seen as a distant politician with interests that don't align with everyday Americans.

Tuesday’s speech plays right into this narrative. Rubio found himself in an uncomfortable position a lot of people could probably picture themselves in. And ultimately, he was a good sport about it.

Rubio had a close-up view last year of how opponents successfully fueled the narrative that Mitt Romney lacked personality and charisma and never could quite shake off the perception that he was awkward. He looks determined not to let anything like that happen to him.

Collins won't filibuster Hagel: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced Wednesday that she will not vote for Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense Secretary, but she will vote against a filibuster, meaning Hagel appears to be just two Republicans short of overcoming the filibuster.

"I wish that President Obama had made a different choice for this critical position, but he is entitled to have this nominee receive a direct vote on the Senate floor," Collins said in a statement. "And I, for one, will vote against the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.”

Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) have previously said they will support Hagel, meaning he now appears to have at least 58 votes to override the filibuster (assuming all 55 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents vote for him).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday set in motion the confirmation debate, meaning a filibuster override vote could be held as soon as Friday.


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says he will put a hold on John Brennan's nomination to the CIA, but Reid says he won't honor it.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) doesn't like Obama's minimum wage hike proposal.

Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) says it's "totally disingenuous" for the GOP to try to pin the sequester on Obama.

Cochran, who is 75, is noncommittal about running for reelection in 2014.

new GOP automated poll shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leading actress Ashley Judd (D) 49 percent to 40 percent. Judd is still considering a bid.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), whom Republicans would like to target in 2014, has a very strong 59 percent favorable rating, compared to just 22 percent unfavorable.

Former Obama strategist David Axelrod says the proliferation of public polling is like "giving a bazooka to a six-year old."

Senate Republicans are again pushing for a balanced budget amendment.


"Growth isn’t enough to help the middle class" -- Jim Tankersley, Washington Post

"Lawmakers Say Sequester Replacement Plan Slipping to Late March" -- Alan K. Ota, Roll Call

"Scorecard for Colleges Needs Work, Experts Say" -- Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times



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Sean Sullivan · February 13, 2013

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