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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio winning PR war on Dream Act

Florida Democrats for weeks have been escalating attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio, most recently highlighting votes against the Restore Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

The efforts haven't gained much traction, as evidenced by the news media's collective yawn toward a Rubio-bashing conference call Democrats held Wednesday. The issues do, however, reveal a developing pattern.

Rubio, the only Gulf state senator to vote against the Restore Act, said he supported the concept but didn't like an amendment that diverted interest on BP oil spill money elsewhere (he's less vocal about Grover Norquist's warning it would violate the tax pledge). Rubio said he supported VAWA but didn't like a provision redirecting money to combat sexual assault.

Then there's his against-for approach to the Dream Act. Rubio opposes the Dream Act, saying it would provide "chain migration" and represents "amnesty." But he says he wants to do something for the kids and is working on a highly publicized alternative that would grant legal status, not a path to citizenship.

"What he's trying to do is to come up with an alternative that allows him to turn on the one hand and say, 'I oppose the Dream Act' when he's talking to the right wing of his party and at the same time turn around and say, "Yeah, but I gave an alternative and the alternative was almost as good,' " said Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. "It isn't almost as good. The Dream Act was designed and has been supported (by) the Hispanic community and it does lead a pathway to citizenship which is earned over a long period of time. I don't think that substitute is going to get him out of the dilemma he is in."

But if Rubio is trying to have it both ways, he's winning the PR battle.

Rubio has gained support among some Dream Act advocates who say his plan, which has not been made public, is a starting point. The Republican senator has been working both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and Democrats have toned down their response, not wanting to seem obstinate on an issue important to a growing Hispanic voter base.

The Washington Post editorialized Monday in favor of his plan. "Better late than never," the newspaper said.

"I'm not saying ... the president and Congress will not take a look at an alternative," Smith said. "But this alternative is the result of a Hispanic problem in polling. They know where they are. They are dramatically behind because they will not support the Dream Act. What they're really trying to do is have it both ways, address their poling problem with Hispanics ... while at the same time appeasing to the right."

Today, in Tampa, Florida's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson takes his turn at Dream Act politics. A supporter of the plan Rubio opposes, Nelson will be discussing the issue with students at USF. He's also planning to talk about the student loan issue. On that score, Rubio is unequivocal: He says the low interest rates should be extended.


[Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 2:10am]


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