Why, yes, that is Marco Rubio peering at you from the latest cover of Time magazine. Unlike yesterday's tea bagger beefcake calendar, the cover is for real. Rubio takes one of four special-edition covers that feature some of the most talked-about Republican candidates from across the country, and inside, Time has nothing but nice words for Rubio.
"Looking back, that was the day the 2010 election truly began -- not just the campaign for a Senate seat from Florida but the broad national campaign for control of Congress and the direction of the country," writes Time's David Von Drehle the day Rubio entered the race and challenged Charlie Crist. "Rubio's decision to wage a philosophical battle for the soul of the Florida GOP was a catalyst for the surprising and outrageous events that followed."
Oh, how cute of Time to characterize the Republican Party of Florida, let alone anything political in the state, as having a soul.
Drehle also pays the ultimate Republican compliment to Rubio by earnestly comparing him to Ronald Reagan.
Rubio sounded positively Reaganesque as he brought down the house earlier this year at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. At 39, he has some growing to do before he can wear the old man's shoes, but the family resemblance is there. His speech blended Democrat bashing and muscle flexing with a ringing dose of only-in-America uplift.
Of course, Rubio is only one side of the national Republican story. The other three cover stars are Kentucky's Rand Paul, California's Meg Whitman, and Delaware's infamous Christine O'Donnell. Of those three, only one, Paul, has any chance of joining Rubio in the winner's circle. Whitman is, according to the Real Clear Politics average, 8.8 points behind in the California Senate race. O'Donnell is a desperate 17.2 points behind in the Delaware Senate race.
Even Paul's chances of winning might be lessened following an incident in which one of his supporters unapologetically stomped on the head of a female MoveOn.org protester.
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For every bright young Republican star like Rubio, there seems to be a Joe Miller (the Sarah Palin-approved Senate candidate who now sits in third place behind a write-in candidate) or a Dan Maes (the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado who is polling under 10 percent).
Maybe that's the bigger story about Rubio. Not only was he able to wrestle the "soul" of the Florida GOP away from moderates such as Crist, but also his campaign has had enough professionalism and sanity to not let things go too full-fledged wing nut and scare away moderates.
Of all the candidates who grace Time's cover this week, Rubio is probably the only one we wouldn't be surprised to see on the magazine's cover in the future.
[Time: The Party Crashers]