Marco Rubio is running for president in 2012. It's not official, of course, and maybe even Rubio himself hasn't decided whether to seek the highest office in the land. But at the raucus party tonight at the Biltmore, it sure seemed like Rubio's next campaign just began.
There weren't 300 media outlets from D.C. to India to Germany packed into Coral Gables just to watch the next Senator from Florida. Jeb Bush didn't gush onstage over a six-year term on the Hill. And Rubio sure as hell didn't give a speech absent on policy and long on soaring rhetoric because he's perfectly content as the junior senator from the Sunshine State.
When I wrote a feature about Rubio back in July when he was still facing an uphill fight against Charlie Crist, a top Dem who served with Rubio in the Florida Legislature told me: "It's no secret that Marco wants to be the first Cuban-American president."
That certainly wasn't a secret at the Biltmore, where every other attendee chattered away about the Iowa caucuses in two years. "We did a great job campaigning for Marco in the summer here in sunny Florida, but will we be there for him in the cold in Iowa and New Hampshire?" asked David Rivera, the newly minted Congressman from the 25th District.
I ended up watching Rubio's grand entrance with a corps of foreign reporters. "Will your readers know who Rubio is?" I asked.
"No way," a German reporter told me. "But we explain that he's the face of the Tea Party, and that he'll be a presidential candidate in two years and that's why they care."
Rubio himself struck a presidential tone in his victory speech, opening and closing with a favorite campaign line, intoning that "the United States of America is the single greatest nation in all of history," but then noting that it will only stay that way if Republicans are allowed to steer the course.
Unlike a lot of his Tea Party bros around the country, Rubio didn't hark on budgets or social issues in his speech. Instead he talked about his dad, a Cuban immigrant, and his fight to give his family chances he never had.
"I will always be the son of exiles," he promised to loud applause, just before confetti exploded over the hotel courtyard.
In the meantime, to our loyal Iowa Riptide readers and their fine presidential caucuses: Get ready to know this guy up close and personal very soon.