For Rubio, whose Senate seat is up in 2016, a White House run marks a major gamble. It means foregoing a run for Senate reelection to enter a crowded primary race where he—despite enormous political talent and unrivaled rhetorical abilities—has consistently polled in single digits in both national and early-state surveys.
But Rubio, as his advisers often note, has been in this position before. This time six years ago, Rubio was an afterthought in a U.S. Senate race that appeared destined to belong to Gov. Charlie Crist and the GOP establishment. It didn’t take long for Rubio to turn the race upside down, using his family’s immigrant story and his exceptional oratory skills to become a favorite of the conservative base—in Florida and nationally. Crist’s establishment allies soon began defecting to the younger, sharper candidate, and eventually the popular governor left the GOP altogether to run as an independent. It didn’t matter: Rubio crushed both Crist and the Democratic nominee in November, and in doing so immediately went on the short-list of vice-presidential candidates in 2012 and presidential hopefuls for 2016.
Rubio is similar in this regard to two Senate colleagues, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both of whom overcame significant opposition from the GOP establishment to win their Senate races in 2012 and 2010 respectively, and both of whom will be competing with Rubio for the Republican presidential nomination. For Rubio, however, the parallels are even starker: He defeated one Florida governor with establishment backing already in 2010, and now faces an identical dynamic in running against Jeb Bush, his friend and former ally in Tallahassee.