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'An American Son': Marco Rubio Weaves the Personal and the Political

July 8, 2012 - 6:00pm

There is something distinctly odd about U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., penning an autobiography. Rubio is a rising political star to be sure, and at the national level even. But he is still only 41.

Even as his chances of ending up as Mitt Romneys running mate seem to fade, there remains a feeling that Rubio is a man whose day will come -- but its not here yet.

Still, in this day and age when even the likes of Miley Cyrus can offer autobiographies while still in her teens, a book should have been expected from Rubio as his star continues to rise. Books are increasingly part of the politicians toolbox. The discount bins of the major bookstores are full of books from politicians offering readers insight into their lives and plans on how to restore America. Some of them briefly appear on the bestseller lists before sinking like a stone and ending up buried in a bin.

An American Son from Rubio should avoid the discount bins for at least a few years. While half of the book describes Rubios bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010, he also offers readers an interesting account of his childhood in South Florida and Las Vegas, and a moving look at his return to the Catholic faith. Some of the best parts of the book chronicle Rubios relationship with his grandfather and his political awakening. Readers looking to know more about the start of Rubios career in the U.S. Senate will be disappointed. He offers less than 20 pages on his debut in Washington.

While the book serves as solid introduction for newcomers learning about the junior senator from Florida, Rubio does offer an interesting look at politics in the Sunshine State. He presents a good introduction to the often Byzantine maneuvering between legislators in Tallahassee over future leadership contests. Rubio also shows how Richard Corcoran -- then a political aide and now a state representative with his eye on taking the gavel and leading the House -- helped him rise to serve as speaker of the Florida House. While Rubio is sharp on describing the politics in Tallahassee, he is not as strong when it comes to reviewing the policies he backed in the Florida House.

Rubios unlikely rise over then-Gov. Charlie Crist in the Republican primary and in the general election is the heart of the book. Offering some respectful words for then-U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democrat in the race, Rubio presents the now-familiar story of how he overcame Crists initial lead in the polls and campaign finance to drive the governor out of the GOP and force him to continue his Senate bid with no party affiliation.

Rubio was able to harness the support of the tea party movement while appealing to the conservative base and keeping the Republican leadership in line. It was an impressive achievement. He describes in the book how he used debates to position himself to Crists right -- which was easier to do after the governor's embrace of President Barack Obama and the introduction of the federal stimulus.

Rubio is coy about his own future and his quick wrap-up on his first months in the Senate leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste. He could have fleshed out the experience of making his first bow on the national stage.

Politicians in Florida have a habit of quickly fading after big wins. Fuller Warren, Sydney Catts and Claude Kirk all became governor in dramatic fashion -- and spent the rest of their lives trying to recapture lost glory. There have been a handful of politicians who have been able to string together election wins at the state level -- Bob Graham comes to mind -- but Florida can often sour on familiar figures. After two successful gubernatorial elections, Reubin Askew flopped when he tried to move up to the Senate in the 1988 election cycle. Florida voters also turned against familiar political figures like Crist and Bill McCollum in 2010.

With the state so spread out geographically and with population centers often barely aware of each other, politicians find it hard to remain on top in Florida for an extended period of time. Just ask Bill Nelson, who is in for a tough fight for a third term in the U.S. Senate and remains unknown to many voters despite his four decades on the states political stage. Its something the great political scientist V.O. Key noted in his classic work Southern Politics in State and Nation and its one of the reasons why no Floridian has ever been on a national political ticket, despite the Sunshine States important role in presidential elections.

Rubio seems to have more star power than other politicians who rose from Florida and looked to play on the national stage -- Graham, Askew, Crist, Jeb Bush, Kirk. That will help him. But the freshman senator also has to remain secure at home.

As he hits the various markets around Florida and appears on national television to promote his book, Rubio is battling on two fronts -- even as his chances to be Mitt Romneys running mate fade. An American Son may join the assorted political books in the bargain bin, but for the moment at least, it should keep him in the public eye at both the national and state level.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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