Is Rubio's moment coming or has it already passed?

Earlier today Noah made an interesting case for both the timing and location of an anticipated Marco Rubio presidential bid announcement. While the storyline about American rapprochement with Cuba has faded significantly from the news cycle in the face of troubles on the Arabian Peninsula, it’s still an important aspect of US foreign policy and one which Rubio can speak to from a rather personal an nearly unique perspective. (I specify “nearly unique” since Ted Cruz shares something of that same background as well.) And Cuba is far from the only subject where Rubio has a substantive policy message as he prepares to carry his banner onto the political field of battle. But has he been eclipsed by the swelling GOP field before he even gets out of the gate?

Doug Mataconis seems to believe that his moment may have come and gone before he was ready to launch.

You can see Rubio’s problem quite clearly in the early polling of the race. At the national level, RealClearPolitics puts Rubio’s average at 5.0 %, well behind candidates like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, but also behind people like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rand Paul. Instead, he’s in the same tier as candidates like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and Chris Christie. In Iowa,Cruz is similarly in single digits with a RealClearPolitics average of 5.3% as of the most recent polling. Rubio is similarly at the back of the back in polling in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The only early primary state where Rubio is in double digits, in fact, is Florida and even there he’s behind both former Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. If Rubio is going to be a credible candidate, he is going to have to find a way to make a breakthrough in one or more of these early states and, while there’s certainly a lot of time between and and when the primaries start in February, the Florida Senator is in a fairly deep hole against candidates who are already better known and who are likely to be better funded. While it’s certainly possible for Rubio to make up this lost ground, it’s going to require a lot of things to go exactly right for him and it leaves very little room for error.

For some reason I’ve felt from the beginning that Rubio was being rather sensible in taking his time and waiting for the most opportune moment to jump into the race, assuming he is going to. After all, no matter how much the current political madness has accellerated the process, there is still a long road to travel before anyone casts a meaningful vote. Rubio has time, right? But there have been some odd confluences of candidates in the horse race this time. Rubio is fighting not only a national race, but one for credibility in holding a specific place which is not only his home state, but a swing state in the national race and a massive chunk of the nation’s total electoral votes. (That would be Florida for those of you just joining the program in process.)

The problem is that he’s sharing that home turf with another candidate who is much further ahead in the early metrics. (Jeb Bush) They will be slugging it out for both donors and favored son appeal, while approaching some issues near and dear to the base from different angles. Still, Bush is well out in front on the money and you can’t discount that. This confluence turns what should have been a national referendum into a case of all politics being local very quickly.

As a side note, I would point out that there is a similar drama being played out in Texas, though seemingly to a lesser degree, as Ted Cruz wrangles with Rick Perry for votes. But at least thus far, Perry is lacking the national draw that Bush has.

How important will the Cuba situation be going forward? While many of our readers disagreed with me, I was one of the observers who felt that Cuban rapprochement was worth a shot, not because it was likely to be a stunning success, but mostly because nothing else seemed to be working. Given the importance in national polls of foreign policy issues involving Israel and Iran, how heavily will voters weigh the Cuba situation? Even if Obama’s plans go completely amiss, let’s face it… how much worse will it be than it already was?

The bottom line is that I’m not sure how heavily Rubio can hang his hat on the Cuba question at this point and make the impact he needs as he splashes down into an increasingly crowded pool. There are so many sharks who are either already in the water or approaching quickly that it’s difficult to identify what signature issue Rubio is going to slap down on the table which sets him apart at this point. Honestly, I don’t think Cuba is going to break him out of single digits. Rubio’s moment may indeed have already come and gone.