Marco Rubio's Freedom Tower Presidential Announcement: What You Need to Know

From the moment he rode a Tea Party wave to topple the then-mighty Charlie Crist in a 2010 GOP Senate primary, Marco Rubio has always been the next big thing in waiting for conservatives. A campaign credit card scandal couldn't slow him down. Neither could his ex-best buddy David Rivera's corruption shenanigans. Even a nationally televised water bottle gaffe didn't slow his roll.

Today, Rubio finally takes the next step that pundits and power brokers have been anticipating for years. Marco Rubio, presidential candidate, will be born this afternoon in downtown Miami. Here's what you need to know:

When and Where Is the Announcement?
Rubio's big moment is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at the Freedom Tower in the middle of downtown Miami. 

Why the Freedom Tower?
The iconic building on Biscayne Boulevard holds powerful symbolism for Cuban-Americans like Rubio. Built as the home of the now-defunct Miami News, the Mediterranean revival landmark was a federal building in the 1960s when Cubans began fleeing Castro to South Florida. Tens of thousands of those immigrants were processed through the Freedom Tower, earning it status as Miami's Ellis Island. Also, it sure doesn't hurt Rubio's cause that it's a photogenic locale with a GOP-friendly name like the "Freedom Tower." 

Can I Go to the Announcement?
Not in person — you can't get into the tower unless you have a golden ticket. Although the tower's main room holds only about 1,000 people, Rubio's campaign says more than 3,500 people requested tickets last week, along with 190 journalists from 65 outlets representing every state except Vermont, Politico's Marc Caputo reports.  

But you can try to catch the speech broadcast onto a giant screen across the street, where overflow crowds will be directed.

Will Downtown Traffic Suck Today?
Oh, yes. It'll really, really suck. On top of Rubio's speech at the height of rush hour, the Miami Heat will play directly across the street at the American Airlines Arena at 7:30 p.m. Unless you have urgent business on Biscayne Boulevard between Flagler and NE 12th Street, it's wise to stay far, far away.
Why Is Rubio Announcing Now? 
Mainly because the time is right to get a huge announcement boost. Polls have consistently shown the junior senator from Florida trailing his political mentor Jeb Bush as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in early primary states. Despite a decidedly lackluster announcement at a university where students were compelled to attend at threat of a fine, Sen. Ted Cruz has seen a spike in polling and fundraising after officially jumping into the race. Rubio would be the highest-profile Republican to jump in yet. He could ride the press to some serious campaign cash and early publicity in what's sure to be a razor-tight primary.

Can He Really Win the Nomination?
Maybe! Rubio still doesn't have the name recognition of many of his challengers for the GOP crown, but he's still popular with the base, which is all that counts in primaries. He's got a billionaire auto magnate in his corner, he's young and photogenic and Hispanic, and he doesn't believe in climate change or rapprochement with Iran. Unlike Jeb Bush, he doesn't have to fight to prove his conservative bona fides with rural Iowans who don't like the ex-governor's moderate takes on immigration and education. And the Republican field really is wide open.

Will There Be Protests?
Hell, yes. New Times' inboxes are bursting with details of every group planning to wave signs outside Rubio's event today, not least of which will be a presence from billionaire activist Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate, which plans to target Rubio and every other climate-change skeptic with a campaign blitz during the presidential race.

Will David Rivera Show Up?
Let's hope so! Rubio has done everything possible to distance himself from a guy he once shared a house with in Tallahassee, as Rivera has lost his U.S. House seat and dodges criminal and ethics probes. It's a safe bet the bouncers standing outside the Freedom Tower have photos of Rivera and strict instructions not to let him near Marco.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink