Marco Rubio just wants to be a regular guy. Well, he wants to be the leader of the free world, too. But judging by some of his television appearances and campaign videos, Rubio is attempting to connect with voters as an “average Joe” who loves football and understands issues that are relevant to young people.
The idea of political candidates trying to portray themselves as down-to-Earth, sometimes even folksy people who can connect with voters is nothing new. If a blue suit with an American flag pin is the unofficial uniform of the debate stage, jeans and a plaid button-down could be called the unofficial uniform of the stump speech (at least for male candidates not named Bernie Sanders).
One of the classic voter tests for any presidential candidate is, “Would you want to have a beer with this guy?” Ted Cruz openly admits that’s not who he is. Donald Trump is likely too abrasive to be seen that way. And Jeb Bush has tried to be accessible, but struggles to break away from his cerebral style.
But Rubio has made that strategy a cornerstone of his campaign. He used the “I’m just a regular guy” defense when he was being criticized for managing his money poorly. Then he released a series of football-themed videos, and started making TV appearances designed to make him accessible to voters – especially young people.
In an appearance on "The Tonight Show" on Thursday, Rubio joked about his now-famous boots, saying they've been stashed "in an undisclosed location." He even recalled a story about attending a "foam party" in college where he wore similar boots. How many other GOP candidates have brought up their college party days this election cycle? It is perhaps a predictable strategy for the youngest candidate in the Republican field, but one that not many of his opponents have embraced.
That’s especially noteworthy in an election where many GOP candidates have focused on appearing as conservative as possible rather than being as accessible as possible. While Donald Trump and Ted Cruz focus on the “outsider” lane, and Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich vie for the “establishment” lane, Rubio would like to position himself somewhere in the middle.
Rubio has had tea party support, but he’s also much more palatable to establishment Republicans than, say, Cruz. If Rubio can get support from both of those groups, he’ll do something no other Republican has done this cycle: Unite the moderate and conservative wings of the party.
The question is whether that works among Republican primary voters who seem to value Washington outsiders who want to take on the establishment over relatability or electability. Or even likability.