Five days before he would take the biggest step of his young political career, Marco Rubio called Bernie Navarro, a Miami real estate investor, to ask for a favor. Rubio wanted to have a small, low-key gathering to thank friends and family before his official announcement the next day, and he needed someone to host it. Navarro, like Rubio the son of Cuban exiles, asked permission from his wife. Although she had denied his repeated requests to host a Super Bowl party, there was no hesitation in approving this one.
At dusk on a steamy Sunday evening, Rubio, wearing khakis, a plaid oxford, and brown loafers, walked to the middle of the backyard of the stately suburban Miami home to address the group that had come to wish him well. Navarro had introduced him as “the next president of the United States,” though he apologized for scooping his friend’s own announcement. The crowd of approximately 150 people included family, friends, staff from his Senate office and political operation, Florida supporters, and a smattering of major contributors from around the country. Rubio’s wife and children were there. So were his siblings Mario, Barbara, and Veronica. Clyde Fabretti, a Tea Party leader from central Florida, brought his wife and daughter. Philip Ellender, an executive with Koch Industries, came from Atlanta. Warren Tompkins, the South Carolina Republican strategist who will be running a pro-Rubio super-PAC, was there along with some of those who will serve on his staff.
With the strong smell of steaks wafting from the commercial-sized grill just a few feet to his right, Rubio started with the obvious joke. “Thank you all for coming. I’m glad to announce my reelection for the Senate,” he said, with a broad grin.
“I’m not going to give you a long speech,” he promised. “I just want you all to have a good time.” Several children playing on the playground behind Rubio—including his youngest son—ignored Rubio’s words and continued leaping from swings and tackling one another as he spoke. Rubio offered a three-minute preview of the speech he would give the following day. “I’m excited about tomorrow, but I’m more excited about the future of our country,” Rubio said. “We’ve got some problems with our current leaders, making bad decisions, but the best way to change the decisions that we’re making is to change the people that are making them. And that’s what we’re going to start working on tomorrow.”
The announcement speech was vintage Rubio—equal parts lamentation and inspiration, at once a dismal accounting of the many problems facing the country and an upbeat, expectant promise to address them. The American people and their economy are driving global innovation and growth, Rubio said, but “too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the twentieth century.” Those leaders—and it was clear Rubio was thinking in particular about one of them—“put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing, and regulating like it’s 1999.” He sharpened his criticism of Clinton-era policies moments later with an allusion to Hillary Clinton’s declaration of her candidacy the day before.
“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over. And we are never going back.”
Before Rubio’s announcement, the conventional wisdom in the establishment media held that Clinton’s announcement would step on Rubio’s big day and inevitably overshadow it. But Rubio’s team liked the contrast.
In the weeks before Rubio entered the race, his team internally settled on April 13 as the tentative launch date. They told no one. Days later, and before they announced the date to the public or talked to television networks about coverage, Rubio’s campaign learned that Hillary Clinton planned to announce on April 12. Rubio discussed changing the date with his top advisers and decided that the potential upside of announcing immediately after Clinton would outweigh any negatives.
Rubio had long planned to frame the 2016 election as a “generational choice”—echoing the theme (and title) of the closing ad of Rubio’s 2010 Senate race. Announcing his candidacy the day after Clinton would highlight those differences and ensure that coverage of his announcement was paired with coverage of hers.