Adam Hasner formally opened his campaign for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, casting himself as an "honest conservative" ready to take on the health care law and big government spending.
But he's also hoping for a hand from Sen. Marco Rubio.
The national Republican star is not going to endorse in the 2012 GOP primary, so Hasner is trying to confer the blessing on himself.
He's stressing ties to Rubio and closely following his campaign playbook — right down to the line about a Garmin Global Positioning System being his only road companion as he goes from one small gathering of conservatives to the next.
"Picked by Marco Rubio to serve as Republican majority leader in Florida," Hasner says on his Twitter profile.
In interviews, like the one with conservative radio host Mark Levin on Monday night, Hasner recounts how he and Speaker Rubio took on Gov. Charlie Crist and resisted pulling the GOP to the middle.
He notes how he was one of the early backers of Rubio, while most Republicans thought Crist would win the 2010 Senate race with minimal effort. Like Rubio, Hasner tells crowds he'll be outraised, trying to project a scrappy outsider's persona. (Never mind that he and Rubio had to leave the Legislature due to term limits.)
It used to be Jeb Bush that Republican candidates tried to compare themselves to. Now it's Rubio.
Hasner is not the only Republican candidate seeking Rubio's mojo. Mike Haridopolos, current president of the Florida Senate, sent out a fundraising appeal that mentioned Rubio a half-dozen times.
George LeMieux, once Crist's closest adviser and a Rubio critic, jumped on the campaign trail for Rubio late last year, declaring him "the brightest star of our generation in politics — and not just in Florida, nationwide."
Together, their message to Republican voters is the same: Rubio needs an ally in Washington, not a vote-canceling foe like incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Hasner, 41 of Boca Raton has most aggressively sought the Rubio label and has had early success sowing the perception.
"The next Marco Rubio? Meet Adam Hasner" read a headline Tuesday on the Washington news website the Daily Caller.
"If you like Marco Rubio, you'll like this Adam Hasner, too," Levin said on air Monday night. "Another young guy … another up-and-comer."
Re-creating Rubio's success will not be easy. For starters, Rubio had a supreme foil in Crist.
Crist's moderate side and flip-flops allowed Rubio to position himself as the pure conservative. The story line was irresistible for the national news media, boosting Rubio's profile as Crist's fundraising dried up, leaving him no option but to run as an independent.
By contrast, Haridopolos and LeMieux will be fighting for the same ideological space as Hasner, a battle to prove who is most conservative.
Rubio benefited from the tea party-fueled tide of support for Republicans. The enthusiasm remains, but Democrats were battered in the midterm elections and will mobilize their side. Also, Rubio and Crist squared off for an open seat, vacated by a fellow Republican. This time, the Republican nominee will face a heavily financed and experienced campaigner in Nelson.
And Rubio had a compelling life story, the son of Cuban exiles. He wove their pursuit of the American dream into campaign speeches, leaving crowds misty eyed.
"There is a real tendency for candidates to take a winning playbook from somebody who succeeded before them and try to run on it. It's not always successful. They can't be that person," said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
She said Hasner has smartly tried to replicate Rubio's dogged travel throughout the state, building relationships with grass roots activists. Hasner showed up in Pasco County last week and told a Republican group that he made the drive from Palm Beach County alone (except for his GPS).
He worked in a reference to Rubio picking him as majority leader, which impressed the crowd, said organizer Bill Bunting. On the way out, Hasner Tweeted how much he enjoyed the barbecue — the kind of personal touch Rubio used to do.
In an interview Tuesday, Hasner said he proudly shares Rubio's views but brings his own story as the child of Democrats growing up in liberal Palm Beach County. "We're going to carve out our own path in the state," he said. "I know people want to make comparisons but 2012 is going to be much different than 2010. I bring my own energy and passion to this debate."
LeMieux has been working the grass roots himself, including the group in Pasco. Haridopolos visited, too, but overall has not been on the ground as much because of his duties with the legislative session.
"He can hitch himself to whomever he likes, but Adam Hasner still is a man and will have to stand on his own record," said Tim Baker, Haridopolos' campaign manager.
"It's early," he added. "The voters in Florida are going to have a long time to look these candidates over."