Rubio, a tea party favorite and national GOP luminary who first won election to the Senate in 2010, captivated the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday evening with a prime-time address in which he cited his parents’ journey from Cuba to the United States as proof that America is an exceptional country.
“The dreams he had when he was young became impossible to achieve,” Rubio told the crowd of his Cuban-born grandfather, with whom he said he watched his first GOP convention in 1980. “But there was no limit to how far I could go, because I was an American.”
With his speech, he was clearly being presented as a future of the party.
Rubio seized on President Obama’s 2008 campaign themes of hope and change, telling the crowd that “under Barack Obama, the only change is that hope has been hard to find.”
He argued that while Obama isn’t “a bad person,” he has been “a bad president” — one whose signature agenda items such as the national health-care law and the economic stimulus represent “ideas that people come to America to get away from.”
“No matter how you feel about President Obama, this election is about your future, not about his, and this election is not simply a choice between a Democrat and a Republican — it’s a choice about what kind of country we want America to be,” Rubio said.
The Fix’s Chris Cillizza wrote that Rubio’s speech was the best given at the convention, and showcased the potential of the rising star:
Marco Rubio: We knew the Florida senator was talented. But his speech on Thursday night showed that he is a MAJOR political star. Rubio’s speech was, without question, the best of the convention. He seemed entirely at ease in the massive national spotlight — compellingly telling his life story and mixing in jabs at Obama in a more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone that made the hits more powerful. (One example: ”Our problem is not that he’s a bad person. Our problem is that he’s a bad president.”) It’s uniquely possible that we will look back in four or eight years to this night as the time when it became clear Rubio had that something special that made him a force to be reckoned with in presidential politics.
Rubio also compared the story of his upbrining and family history with that of Mitt Romney. As Felicia Somnez reported:
“My dad was a bartender,” he said. “My mom was a cashier, a maid, and a stock clerk at K-Mart. They never made it big. They were never rich. And yet they were successful. Because just a few decades removed from hopelessness, they made possible for us all the things that had been impossible for them.”
But, Rubio continued, “That’s not just my story. That’s our story. … It’s the story of a man who was born into an uncertain future in a foreign country,” Rubio said. “His family came to America to escape revolution. They struggled through poverty and the Great Depression. And yet he rose to be an admired businessman, and public servant.”
Romney’s father, George Romney, was born in Mexico to parents who had been ordered by the Mormon church to flee the United States, where anti-polygamy laws were tightening at the time. George Romney was later brought back to the United States at age 5 as his family was forced to flee Mexican revolutionaries.
“And in November, his son, Mitt Romney, will be elected President of the United States,” Rubio added to boisterous cheers from the crowd.