Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio talk to reporters in...

Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio talk to reporters in Aston, Pa. (April 23, 2012) Credit: AP

There's something about Marco Rubio. Stick the Republican junior senator from Florida behind a lectern, and the Internet lights up with anticipation. Fly him to Guantanamo Bay for a first-in-his-life Cuba toe-touch, and headlines sprout. Drop him in South Carolina for a speech, and the vice presidential speculation roars. It's been happening so fast for Rubio that mythologies were bound to proliferate. Let's separate some Rubio facts from fictions.

1. Marco Rubio is too inexperienced to be vice president.

Rubio's short time in Washington -- he's been in the Senate only since January 2011 -- is often cited as a drawback to his joining the Republican ticket. Well, there was another freshman senator whom voters deemed ready for the White House not long ago: Barack Obama.

Obama had been in the Senate barely two years when he announced that he was running for president. He came to Washington after serving three terms in the Illinois legislature. Rubio, 41, served four terms in the Florida legislature.

And Obama was far from being the power player in Illinois that Rubio was in Florida. Rubio served as majority whip, majority leader and speaker of the House. Almost from the moment he arrived in Tallahassee, he was in the middle of every hot issue, from education funding to property taxes.

Other arguments can be made for and against Rubio's ability to handle the job of vice president. But saying he doesn't have enough experience doesn't make much sense.

2. Rubio is a creation of the tea party movement.

Rubio has been hailed as the tea party's crown prince and, along with Rand Paul, one of its first senators. His embrace of the insurgent movement critical of both Republicans and Democrats gave him an anti-establishment imprimatur that helped fuel his startling victory in Florida's 2010 Senate race.

Lost in all the tea party hoopla is Rubio's long history as a rank-and-file Republican. In his 20s, he served as a county chairman for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. In his early 30s, while in the legislature, he established a reputation as a savvy insider and partisan pit bull for one of his mentors, then-House Speaker Johnnie Byrd.

By the time Rubio ran for the Senate in his late 30s, he was a force in Florida GOP politics and had entree to Republican royalty through his close relationship with Gov. Jeb Bush.

Yes, he began his campaign as a long shot, and many powerful GOP figures first backed his primary opponent, Charlie Crist. But establishment Republicans had often clashed with Crist, and as his campaign flagged, influential members of the party quietly began shifting their support to Rubio. Once Crist decided to run as an independent, the establishment publicly took up Rubio as its champion.

3. Rubio's parents fled the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.

Rubio's parents' fictional flight from communism is the great creation myth of his ascent. During his rise and after his election to the Senate, Rubio portrayed himself as the son of exiles forced to flee Cuba after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.

He spread the story in his campaign and U.S. Senate biographies, which stated that his parents "came to America following Fidel Castro's takeover." He repeated it in media interviews, telling Fox Business in 2009, for example, that "I think that the direction we're going in Washington, D.C., would make us more like the rest of the world, and not like the exceptional nation that my parents found when they came here from Cuba in 1959." In reality, his parents, Mario and Oriales Rubio, arrived in the United States on May 27, 1956 -- two and a half years before Castro took over and six months before he invaded the island.

Rubio corrected his Senate biography after The Washington Post and the St. Petersburg Times reported about the discrepancy in October 2011.

He says he was relying on family lore. He argues that he was justified in calling himself the son of exiles because his parents weren't able to return to Cuba after Castro took power, regardless of when they left.

4. Having Rubio on the Republican ticket would automatically attract Latino voters.

The notion that Rubio is the elixir for the GOP's problems with Latino voters has become an article of faith. But look at the numbers. A mid-April survey found that Hispanics in Florida favor President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 52 percent to 37 percent. The poll put Rubio on the Republican ticket, and the results were the same.

There are also lingering historical resentments between non-Cuban Latinos -- approximately 96 percent of the U.S. Latino population -- and Cubans, who receive preferential immigration treatment. Rubio has drawn a distinction, saying that he has "nothing against immigrants, but my parents are exiles." Rubio also co-sponsored E-Verify legislation, which would mandate that employers use the system to check the immigration status of job applicants. He has said he would have voted for Arizona's "papers please" law and is against the original Dream Act. On Friday, he called Obama's executive order to stop deporting young illegal immigrants "welcome news," but branded it a "short-term answer to a long-term problem." He has recently drawn praise from some activists for urging Republicans to moderate their tone on immigration and for touting an alternative Dream Act that would grant a special visa to high achievers, but not a path to citizenship.

Rubio, who speaks Spanish fluently, may be able to win over Latinos. But as he has said, it's not enough to simply choose "a person whose name ends in a vowel."

5. Rubio has always been a staunch small-government conservative.

Rubio swept into office arguing against big government. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee endorsed him, saying Rubio was committed to "holding down spending, keeping taxes low and not believing that ... government handouts is the way to build an economy." After Rubio was elected, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., placed him on his "wall of fame" for early opposition to earmarks.

But Rubio wasn't always against earmarks. In 2001 and 2002, he was one of the biggest earmark requestors in the Florida legislature, a distinction that vanished when he stopped seeking them the next year.

Later, he got off to a rocky start as House speaker when he spent nearly $400,000 on office renovations. Rubio wasn't the first speaker to order up an office makeover, and he wasn't the biggest spender, but he was lambasted in newspaper editorials because he seemed to be contradicting the gospel of fiscal conservatism that he'd preached in his book "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future."

Manuel Roig-Franzia is a Washington Post Style section writer and the author of "The Rise of Marco Rubio," which will be released Tuesday in English and Aug. 7 in Spanish.


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