As he launches his presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is surrounding himself with a tight-knit, fiercely loyal cast of characters. It begins with his relatives, who live near his young family in West Miami. It extends to friends and associates across Florida -- and it includes battle-tested operatives who’ve worked at all levels of Republican politics. Some have long histories with Rubio, dating back to his days in state government. Many are from South Carolina, a critical early state in the GOP primary race.
Here’s a rundown of the friends, family and for-hire professionals in Rubio’s orbit:
Jeanette Rubio: The former Jeanette Dousdebes, she’s Colombian-American and is a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader. In addition to raising the couple’s four children, she also works on a part-time basis for the Braman Family Foundation. (More on the Bramans, below.) The couple married in 1998.
Amanda, Daniella, Anthony, Dominic: The couple’s four children.
Mario Rubio: The senator’s late father will earn frequent mentions along the campaign trail. Rubio has often said that much of his political existence is due to the work and sacrifice of his parents. In his memoir, Rubio wrote fondly of the time he spent as a young boy with his father. After immigrating from Cuba in the 1950s, Mario Rubio first worked as a hotel bartender at Miami’s swanky Roney Plaza Hotel, and later at other locales.
Oriales Rubio: The senator’s mother, who still lives in West Miami. She’s a former hotel maid and Kmart employee.
Mario, Barbara and Veronica: Rubio’s siblings. Mario is a former Army green beret who’s now a city official in Jacksonville; Barbara lives in Miami; Veronica is 18 months younger than the senator and was once married to Carlos Ponce, the famed singer and actor.
Top staff (in alphabetical order):
Whit Ayres: He’ll be Rubio’s top pollster and recently called the senator “the Michael Jordan of American politics.” He’s also the author of a new book, “2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America,” in which he urges the GOP to adapt to the country’s rapidly changing demographics or risk irrelevancy within a few political cycles. Given Rubio’s youth and Hispanic background, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ayres compares Rubio to a sports legend. He’s the founder and president of North Star Opinion Research and also partnered with former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie to establish Resurgent Republic, a right-leaning nonprofit research and polling group.
Rich Beeson: He’s expected to serve as deputy campaign manager with responsibility for political and field operations. As Romney’s political director in 2012, he worked on general election get-out-the-vote operations and ORCA, the campaign’s voter data system that had serious technical problems on Election Day. Previously, he served as the Republican National Committee's political director and was a founder of FLS Connect, a voter contact firm.
Alex Burgos: Another aide with ties to the early days, Burgos is a Miami-area native who worked on the senator’s upstart 2010 campaign. He’s been a Senate spokesman for Rubio for the last few years, but is also expected to play some kind of role in the campaign. Previously he worked for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and as a press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Luke Byars: He’s another South Carolina guy who still works at First Tuesday Strategies and is expected to steer Rubio’s Palmetto State campaign.
Alex Conant: Until recently he was Rubio’s top Senate spokesman, but he left last month to take a similar role on the political side. He’s no stranger to presidential politics, having worked for Tim Pawlenty’s ill-fated 2012 presidential bid and as the RNC’s top spokesman during the 2008 cycle. Previously, he was a speech writer for Commerce Secretary Don Evans and a press secretary of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
Cesar Conda: He’s Rubio’s former Senate chief of staff and left last year to run Reclaim America, but is now back at a firm he founded before joining the Senate operation. He’s still a part-time adviser to Rubio and has been helping the senator develop and nurture relationships with conservative leaders.
Enrique Gonzalez – High-powered Miami immigration attorney who joined Rubio’s Senate staff in 2013 to help craft the failed “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal. Rubio and Gonzalez, who has returned to private practice, have been friends since they served together on the West Miami City Commission in the late 1990s.
Todd Harris: He also gets credit for helping Ernst last year. A consultant on Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign, he also worked for Bush, but is best remembered as a top adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 GOP presidential bid and to the campaigns of former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of those in Rubio’s orbit, Harris is also arguably the most prolific talking head after years of frequent appearances on cable news programs.
Alberto Martinez: He’s chief of staff in Rubio’s Senate office and is one of a few top aides who stretches all the way back to the senator’s early days in Florida. Before taking the top job, he was deputy chief of staff; senior adviser to Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC; and an adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. In Florida, Martinez was the communications director for the Florida House Republicans when Rubio was House speaker. Then, he was a senior adviser on Rubio’s 2010 campaign Senate campaign. Before that, he was a deputy speechwriter to then-Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida communications director for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.
Jim Merrill: He’ll serve as Rubio’s New Hampshire director and all other activities in the Northeast. He ran Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns in the Granite State.
Brooke Sammon: She’s currently Rubio’s top Senate spokesperson and is expected to remain on Capitol Hill when the campaign gets underway. She first worked with Rubio when she was responsible for booking surrogates to appear on behalf of Romney in 2012. Before that, she worked for Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and for former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.
Terry Sullivan: A South Carolina native, he is executive director of Rubio’s PAC, Reclaim America, and is expected to lead the campaign. Among many other tasks, Sullivan has been facilitating Rubio’s outreach to Mitt Romney’s former donors and operatives. He’s a former deputy chief of staff in Rubio’s Senate office, who once worked for the campaigns of former Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Jesse Helms (R-S.C.) and most recently, was a managing partner at First Tuesday Strategies, a political consulting firm.
Heath Thompson: The South Carolina native is expected to serve as an adviser-at-large. He’s a former business partner of Sullivan and is now a partner at Something Else Strategies, along with his wife, Malorie Thompson and veteran GOP operative Todd Harris (see below). Among his notable victories: He helped George W. Bush win the critical 2000 South Carolina Republican primary.
Malorie Thompson: One of just a few women at the top of the Republican communications game, Thompson worked on the campaigns of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa.) and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner last year. Like many others on Team Rubio, she once worked for Jeb Bush.
Anna Rogers: She’s poised to serve as Rubio’s campaign finance director and will be responsible for helping him raise the $50 million his team would like to have in the bank by early next year. She came to Rubio in January after serving in a similar role for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, where she started in 2011. She’s a Mississippi native who was deputy finance director on 2010 campaign of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
Dorinda Moss: She’s been with Rubio longer than Rogers, and will also be on his finance team. She’s held a series of finance positions across the GOP, including a stint as the NRSC’s finance director during the 2010 and 2012 cycles. She’s a longtime aide to former Sen. Fred Thompson and helped raise coin for his short-lived 2008 GOP presidential campaign.
Top donors and outside supporters (in alphabetical order):
Wayne Berman: He’s a senior adviser for global government affairs at the Blackstone Group and was finance chairman for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. He remains a top GOP fundraiser and while his politics and professional experience probably aligns better with Bush, he has said that Rubio’s youthful appeal is the GOP’s best chance to dramatically reshape the country.
Norman Braman: He’s a billionaire auto dealer and philanthropist who once owned the Philadelphia Eagles. He has said he’ll donate at least $10 million to help Rubio – either through his presidential campaign or the super PAC. The donor-politician relationship is usually transactional, but the Braman family has developed a notably close bond with the Rubios. Braman first met Rubio when he was serving in Tallahassee and later backed his Senate race. They traveled together to Israel in late 2010 and Jeanette Rubio has since been hired as a part-time employee of the Braman Family Foundation. She helps the family determine how to donate millions of dollars to nonprofits and charities.
Jose “Pepe” Fanjul – South Florida sugar baron who was one of Rubio’s earliest supporters in his longshot Senate bid. Over the years, Fanjul has played a key role in raising money for Rubio and introducing him to well-heeled donors.
Warren Tompkins: He’s a longtime South Carolina strategist who’s expected to lead a super PAC established to benefit Rubio’s campaign that hopes to raise tens of millions of dollars. He advised George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign in South Carolina and held a similar position for Romney in 2008. In yet another example of the tight-knit nature of Rubio’s orbit, he cofounded First Tuesday Strategies with Sullivan.
Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.