As Marco Rubio rehabs his career, a vocal, visible senator emerges
WASHINGTON — Two months after a brutal home-state loss that ended his presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio is in a one-man race against time and perception.
He rails on the Senate floor against Zika, visits a Jacksonville slum, discusses Orlando's heroin scourge and pops up on local TV and radio shows across Florida — all of it to prove the job isn't as awful as he may have made it seem.
The once overly scripted presidential candidate has relaxed, flashing humor on Twitter, but also frustration about speculation over what he'll do after leaving the Senate in January, or if he'll run for another term, gossip fueled by his renewed focus on Florida and media outreach.
Rubio's rehab project has layers but one measure stands out: Since leaving the presidential trail, he has not missed a single vote.
The beating Rubio took in Florida at the hands of Donald Trump was in part due to his notable absenteeism in Washington, and a view that he treated the job as a stepping stone.
"If I were advising him I would say, 'One of the knocks on you is that you didn't work very hard when you were in the Senate. You've got a couple months to change that perception,' " said Alex Patton, a Republican strategist in Florida.
"He could have crawled into a bottle of Scotch and onto his couch. It was a first-class whuppin'," Patton added. "You can judge a man or woman in how they deal with adversity, and so far, the senator seems to be handling it fairly well."
Rubio says he trying to go out on a strong note.
"This is what I'm supposed to be doing," he said in an interview Thursday from his Washington office. "If I wasn't doing this people would say, 'Well, what are you doing the last six months?' "
There's a clear attempt, however, to improve his standing with voters who put him on the national stage. A Quinnipiac poll this month showed 42 percent of Florida voters approve of his performance versus 49 percent who disapprove, the first time he has been underwater since joining the Senate in 2011.
He may not recover among some grass roots activists.
"It's too late. We sent him to Washington to represent the people of Florida and he did nothing," said Lucille J. Justin, 77, of Plantation, who still has a Rubio for Senate T-shirt in her dresser. "He listened to the wrong people. They saw this young man go to Washington, the fair-haired boy of the Republican Party. His head got full."
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