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Rubio on cover of Time magazine

307_cover_group_1108 Time: It was the winter of 2009, and the echoes of "Yes, we can!" still reverberated across the land. Barack Obama had just been elected President with more than 53% of the vote — a huge number for a Democrat, the biggest in more than 40 years. In Congress, the Democrats had blitzed their opponents for the second time in a row. They now occupied 54 more seats in the House and 12 more in the Senate than they had held a mere 28 months earlier.


You might not have known it by following the news in those days, but Republicans still existed. Most were just trying to figure out how to make their way in that hostile environment. One of them, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, reckoned something along the lines of: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He appeared onstage with the new President on the eve of a congressional vote to spend nearly $800 billion on economic stimulus and liberal initiatives. On that sunny Florida day, Crist heartily endorsed the bill. For good measure, he gave Obama a hug.

Another Florida Republican had a different idea. His name was Marco Rubio. He was the baby-faced former speaker of the Florida legislature. Well-wired Floridians knew that Rubio was thinking about challenging Crist for a seat in the U.S. Senate, and they also knew that this was quixotic because Crist had at least a 30-point lead in the polls, plus friends and money and endorsements from powerful Republicans around the country.

But Rubio saw an opportunity in that hug. If one possible Republican strategy was to embrace the Democratic spending agenda, surely there was a case to be made for opposing it. Rubio decided to "stand up to this Big Government agenda, not be co-opted by it," and three months after The Hug, tossed his hat into the ring. The date was May 5, 2009.

Looking back, that was the day the 2010 election truly began — not just the campaign for a Senate seat from Florida but the broad national campaign for control of Congress and the direction of the country. Rubio's decision to wage a philosophical battle for the soul of the Florida GOP was a catalyst for the surprising and outrageous events that followed. He became a darling of the nascent Tea Party movement and a point man in the movement's purge of the GOP establishment. Rubio led the way for a dust-kicking herd of dark-horse candidates — some thoroughbreds, some nags. And most of all, Rubio symbolized the fact that this year's midterms have become a referendum on such fundamental issues as the role of government and the size of the public debt.

Full story here.