Betsy Woodruff @ NRO:
A few hours before President Obama was scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, mentioned to Senate Republicans in their closed-door luncheon that Marco Rubio would be delivering the party’s response.
Rubio jumped up and said, “I am?” His colleagues laughed.
That’s how Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin tells it. Rubio, whose rapid rise has been exhaustively chronicled, has made quite an impression on his colleagues. In his two years in Congress, he’s gained the respect of members from both sides of the aisle and become a leading member of his caucus. And despite his feigned surprise, he is now one of the GOP’s chief spokesmen, the man who was tapped to deliver the most high-profile rebuttal of the year.
On Capitol Hill, though, what really stands out is how much his colleagues simply like having him around. Beyond the magazine covers and primetime speeches, he’s become a favorite within the institution.
“He’s got a wicked sense of humor,” says Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). “When we were flying overseas, he picked the movie Machete. You go watch it, and that tells a lot about his sense of humor.” (Rotten Tomatoes, a movie-review website, says thatMachete is “messy, violent, shallow, and tasteless — and that’s precisely the point of one of the summer’s most cartoonishly enjoyable films.”)
The members of the Republican conference aren’t the only ones who notice his star power — over the last few weeks, the 42-year-old senator has made a plethora of media appearances in support of his immigration-reform proposals, and Time magazine declared him the “savior” of the GOP. The senator, an avid Tweeter, tweeted a quick response: “There is only one savior, and it is not me. #Jesus.”
But Rubio’s modest Tweet hasn’t lowered expectations. Senator Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) says the flurry of coverage hasn’t been ignored. “It’s been interesting in the last week to be in the House gym with him when every television has him, and the Time magazine thing pops up,” he says. “But he takes it all in stride.”
Is all of the media attention a good workout incentive?
“Maybe that’s it!” says Flake with a laugh. “He tends to speed up a little!”
For now, though, Rubio and his staff don’t seem to be getting ahead of themselves.
“You can’t be the guy that took down Charlie Crist in a political fight without also being keenly aware of how fleeting these moments in politics are,” says Todd Harris, a longtime Rubio strategist. “Charlie Crist was measuring drapes in the White House one day and persona non grata the next.”