The Rubio record: From tea party hero to immigration reformer and beyond

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

In the winter of 2010, conservative firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., turned an upstart U.S. Senate candidate from Florida into the face of the tea party effort to bring more hardline conservatives into the Republican Party and Congress.

“I’d rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters,” DeMint declared at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, launching what would become a tagline for the antiestablishment conservative uprising that year. Specter, a five-term moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, had switched his party affiliation in 2009 and joined with the majority Democrats.

DeMint’s statement reflected what a rock star Rubio had become in conservative circles. Young, Hispanic and ambitious, Rubio had just forced former Gov. Charlie Crist, a moderate Republican, from Florida’s GOP Senate primary, seizing the party’s nomination. Crist went on to run against Rubio as an independent in the general election, losing by nearly 20 points — to the delight of a conservative base that saw other upset wins across the country, from Kentucky to Utah.

That was then. Rubio’s stint as conservative icon is now less a defining feature of his career than it is a discordant footnote to his political story.

On Monday, Rubio will announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, using a brief Senate career that DeMint could not have imagined as his launching pad. And when he does, the one-time face of the tea party will be the most establishment candidate amid the already crowded field of sitting senators vying for the 2016 GOP nod.

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