At first he didn't want to do any national media, preferring to focus on Florida issues. He didn't make his maiden speech on the Senate floor until June 14, five months after being sworn-in.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., so gifted at age 40, combines passion for his conservative ideas with a humility that could easily spill over into arrogance, if he didn't have a strong sense of self. On the morning of our first meeting, I arrive early. He arrives before his staff and goes around turning on lights with no sense that such action is below his pay grade. In a town full of hubris and self-absorption, Rubio appears not to have yet caught the disease. Perhaps he will turn out to be the Hispanic version of Jimmy Stewart's movie character "Mr. Smith."
That doesn't mean Rubio can't attack President Obama, but when he does, it is the president's policies he goes after, not the man.
Of the president's harsh verbal assault on Republicans during his news conference last Wednesday, Rubio says, "I was taken aback by some of the rhetoric the president used, which I think is more appropriate for some left-wing strong man than for the president of the United States." Rubio singled out the president's "class warfare language." He called Obama's proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy, corporate jets, and big oil companies "disingenuous and counterproductive" because the amount of money raised would do little to solve the debt problem and would actually "scare job creators away."
Rubio suggests Americans who got married, worked hard, went to college, got a degree, and are providing for their families feel cheated because they find their homes in many cases worthless, they've lost the job they worked hard to get and can't find work in their field, or if they do, they work twice as hard to pay their taxes at jobs that pay them half as much.
"We need to be focused on what we can do to create an economy that creates jobs," he says. "And the way you do that . . . is not by going around threatening to raise taxes on people who have the money to create jobs."
Rubio said Obama's policies "are really bad for our country. Barack Obama's reelection is not more important than America's future." Not a bad sound bite for a political TV commercial.
I ask him whether he thinks he and his colleagues, as they approach the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling, will be able to stand against familiar attacks from Democrats that Republicans want to end Social Security and Medicare and evict Grandma from her assisted-living center. "I will," he promises. He "hopes" his Republican colleagues will, as well. He says the chances of their standing firm will be improved if they make their case for reform before the attack ads take hold.
Rubio says he's for "saving these very important programs," but they won't be saved if nothing is done.
What does he think of the Republican presidential field so far? "I think it's underrated. . . . I think we're going to have a good nominee. . . . The question for the American people in November 2012 is: Are we going to extend Barack Obama's contract for another four years? If the election were today, you would say every meaningful measure of life in America is worse than in January 2009."
Rubio is aware this sounds Reaganesque as in, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
What about the vice presidency? Does he see himself as a possible running mate? "I don't think I'll be asked. I doubt very seriously you are going to see me on that ticket."
Maybe not, but if Rubio's stock continues to rise, he might not have to think about being asked in 2012. In four or eight more years, he might well be the Republican presidential nominee asking someone to run with him.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.