Guillermo Martinez: Rubio shows he's articulate, but he still needs polishing

In politics, history seldom repeats itself; particularly not in the same decade.

That is what makes Marco Rubio's rocket-propelled rise to the top of the Republican Party such a unique story. Rubio's story comes four years after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, after only two years in the Senate.

Rubio was at his all-time high this week before Tuesday night when he delivered the GOP's response to President Obama's State of the Union Speech. This came only hours after Time Magazine put him on the cover, calling him the "savior."

Not bad for the young Cuban-American politician who would like to become the first Hispanic elected to the White House, after only two years in the Senate. The difference is that after two years, Obama already had become the first African American elected president. Rubio still has to wait four more years before his turn "might" come up.

Despite of these myriad of challenges ahead of him, Rubio has many qualities that may help him overcome the attacks that may be coming his way. He is articulate in both English and Spanish. He speaks to people clearly in a language and with words they understand.

He did not do that Tuesday night when he delivered the GOP response to the State of the Union speech, Rubio did not fully live up to his billing. He was nervous and in the middle of his speech reached out for a small bottle of water. It was not his best moment.

Those came when he spoke from the heart, when he talked about the struggles of his immigrant parents in giving him the opportunity to achieve success in his life.

"Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren't millionaires. They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare," Rubio said.

"So Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich," he added. "I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."

Those were good lines, but he was less effective when he spoke of the deficit and big government. It wasn't original. Rubio has travelled far in politics, but he still has a way to go before he becomes the indisputable Republican champion, much less its savior. Obama spoke of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Rubio spoke of trillion dollar deficits.

Even before Tuesday's speech, Rubio has become a target for state and national columnists, as well as some Democratic politicians. They say Rubio has serious obstacles to overcome. One is named former Congressman David Rivera (R –Fl.) who, with his complicated finances, not only lost his seat in the House of Representatives, but also potentially can hurt Rubio in the future. Rivera and Rubio were housemates in Tallahassee when both were in the Florida Legislature.

Then Rubio has the evolving scandal with Jim Greer, the former state GOP chair convicted this week of five criminal charges. Greer just may have information that may embarrass Rubio. Remember, Greer was the person paying Rubio's personal expenses charged on his party credit card while he was Speaker of the House in Florida.

Others also are trying to create a possible confrontation between Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Rubio is the great Cuban-American hope who has yet to prove he can bring over to the Republican Party the Mexican-American vote. Bush may still want a run at the White House; he speaks Spanish fluently and has a Mexican-American wife.

Bush also has a clean, clear record on education and on immigration reform. Rubio is still a novice on the immigration issue, although he has charmed the right wing commentators on radio and television. The plot on this issue will develop as the details of a comprehensive immigration reform bills are spelled out in Congress.

But, don't count Rubio out just yet.

After Tuesday night, it is obvious that Rubio still needs more time before he is ready to run for president in 2016. But he is young and three years is an eternity in politics.

He still has time to polish his skills, to campaign for other GOP candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections and garner political IOU's from those he helps elect.

For now, however, his first assignment is to recover from his speech Tuesday night and prepare to fight another day.

Guillermo I. Martínez on Twitter at @g_martinez123, or email him at Guimar123@gmail.com

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