Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Twelve new Republicans will join the Senate as a result of the midterm election - and that could be 13 if Joe Miller were to win that Senate seat in Alaska. Already one of the stars of the incoming freshman class is Florida's Marco Rubio. He's young, he's charismatic, he's good-looking, he's Hispanic. He's become one of the national faces of the Tea Party movement, but he is also a career politician and a former leader of Florida's Republican establishment.

As he prepares to take his Senate seat, some Floridians are asking which Marco Rubio will show up. NPR's Greg Allen has more.

GREG ALLEN: Long before his name became a cable news buzzword, Marco Rubio was a well-known Florida politician. He spent nine years in the Florida House - the last two as speaker. He was, and is, a Republican leader, a rising star with close ties to an important political dynasty.

Mr. JEB BUSH (Former Republican Governor, Florida): Bushes get emotional, so I'm going to try my hardest. My wife has told me don't don't cry, don't cry.

ALLEN: Florida's popular former governor, Jeb Bush, has long been one of Rubio's political mentors and friends. At Rubio's victory rally on election night, he sounded almost like a father.

Mr. BUSH: I'm so proud of his enthusiasm. I'm so proud of his eloquence. And I'm so proud that he will be a part of a next generation of leaders that will restore America.

ALLEN: As legislator, State House speaker and now U.S. senator, Marco Rubio represents Florida's Republican political establishment. There was a time, though, after he announced his candidacy for the Senate, that he found himself a political outsider.

He was in a primary race against the state's popular governor, Charlie Crist. Crist had the support of the state and national party, and was beating Rubio at fundraising 13-1.

As Rubio campaigned across the state, there was one group, though, that was always willing to listen and to contribute to his campaign: Florida's emerging Tea Party. Eventually other Republicans in Florida - and nationally - caught up with that Tea Party support.

In speeches and interviews, Rubio doesn't identify himself as a member of the Tea Party. But his central theme, he says, is at the core of that movement.

Senator-Elect MARCO RUBIO (Republican, Florida): That Washington is broken because it fails, that both parties are to blame, that we have we have these monumental issues that have generational implications, and that no one is confronting them and facing them.

Mr. STEVE GELLER (Former Democratic State Senator, Florida): I don't think Marco is the senator from the Tea Party. I think Marco was the right guy in the right place at the right time.

ALLEN: Steve Geller is one of those in Florida who has trouble squaring the Tea Party hero with the legislative insider he worked with in Tallahassee. Geller was a Democratic leader in the Florida Senate when Rubio was House speaker. Geller says Rubio oversaw increases in state spending and took home funding for pet projects like every speaker does. As to what he'll be like in the U.S. Senate, Geller says he has no idea.

Mr. GELLER: Historically, he is more of a negotiator than a bomb-thrower. Historically, he's not the poster boy for the Tea Party. But he was the poster boy for the Tea Party. The question is: Was this an area of mutual accommodation for both of them, or has he drank the Kool-Aid?

ALLEN: It may be, at least for now, more of a question of style than of substance. Rubio has signed on, though, to Senator Jim DeMint's push to ban earmarks - a Tea Party stance that may put him at odds with the Republican leadership in the Senate.

Even so, Ana Navarro, a Republican political consultant and longtime Rubio friend, says she thinks there's a big difference between Rubio and Rand Paul, a Tea Party proponent and Kentucky's new Republican senator. Rubio, she says, isn't a novice who rode the Tea Party into power. The Tea Party movement helped, she says...

Ms. ANA NAVARRO (Republican Political Consultant): But Marco Rubio is a Republican. What I expect is for him to work within that framework. And he also was elected because of his experience as a Republican, as a legislator. There's a lot more to the package.

ALLEN: As a Republican, though, Rubio has a born-again quality. He's said repeatedly that in the election results, voters were not embracing the GOP. In this Congress, Rubio says, Republicans have to be different.

Mr. RUBIO: This is a party that years ago, not so long ago, in the last decade, ran on a certain set of principles and values and ideas, and within 10 years of being in the majority became indistinguishable from the Democrats they had replaced. That cannot happen again. If it happens again, we will find ourselves on the other end of the pendulum come the next election cycle. It's as simple as that.

ALLEN: As to how true he'll be able to stay to those Tea Party principles once he's in the Senate, even Rubio sounds uncertain. On election night, he said he knows Washington is a place that changes people, so they forget why they ran for office. To his supporters, he said, I ask for your prayers for me and my family, that we will not change.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.