The 2016 presidential primaries are less than two years away, and the prime season for thinking about running – and couching your thoughts in the vaguest language possible – is nigh. But Republicans seemed a bit more open about their future ambitions on this week’s menu of Sunday shows – especially Sen. Marco Rubio.
The senator from Florida was already stirring up 2016 gossip with his presence in New Hampshire this weekend – his first visit to the early primary state in two years. ABC’s Jonathan Karl interviewed him there Friday, and their conversation aired Sunday morning on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
Karl asked him the question obviously prompted by the scenery: Do you think you’re ready to be president?
Instead of crafting an appropriately ambiguous response, Rubio said, “I do.”
“I'll be 43 this month, but the other thing that perhaps people don’t realize,” Rubio said, “I’ve served now in public office for the better part of 14 years.”
This is “true for multiple other people that would want to run,” he acknowledged. “I think a president has to have a clear vision of where the country needs to go and clear ideas about how to get it there, and I think we’re very blessed in our party to have a number of people that fit that criteria.
“The question is . . . whose vision is the one that our party wants to follow?”
On CNN, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum mentioned himself as a 2016 contender the public might be interested in following.
“I’m looking for candidates who connect with average voters,” he said Sunday morning. “Someone who has a heart and an understanding of those difficult times those voters are going through, and whether it’s Rick Santorum or somebody else, it’s someone who has that appeal and connection.” Santorum also mentioned that he wrote his new book, “Blue Collar Conservatives,” because he’s thinking about running – and he wants voters to be thinking about it, too.
Although both of these potential candidates seem unafraid to be clear about their future plans this early in the invisible primary, their party may not be ready to jump on their respective bandwagons. In April 2013, the WMUR Granite State Poll showed that Rubio had a favorability rating of 59 percent with New Hampshire residents. This April, his favorability rating was 40 percent.
In this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, dominated by young Republican respondents the party doesn’t want to scare away, Rubio got only 6 percent of the vote.
The reason Rubio seems less in vogue this spring? On the issues in which he sought to stand out – such as immigration – plenty of other prominent Republicans have joined him. Some, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, have pushed for far more expansive immigration reform efforts than Rubio.
And those young voters, the ones who didn’t care much for him in the CPAC straw poll, might disagree with his more conservative views on cultural issues. In Sunday’s ABC interview, Rubio said of climate change, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” He supported the now-defunct Defense of Marriage Act, while 61 percent of young Republicans have said they are in favor of same-sex marriage.
Rubio was asked about his place at the bottom of the 2016 polls on ABC. He joked that perhaps he had been jinxed after winning a place on the cover on Time magazine in February 2013.
“It’s probably the Time cover jinx, just like the Sports Illustrated jinx,” Rubio said. “If you decide to run for president, there’s going to be a campaign, and in that campaign you’re going to interact with voters and you’re going to explain to them where you stand, and those numbers can change one way or the other.”
By saying he’s ready to run before everyone else in the race, Rubio may be hoping to win back a band of followers before the crowded competition elbows its way in. Could that work? Like everything else this early in the presidential race, the answer is a “Who knows?” But hearing an “I do” is no doubt refreshing after months of “no,” “maybe” and “I'll get back to you.”