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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Comparison of Marco Rubio, Barack Obama's experience Barely True

Former House Speaker Marco Rubio hasn't been elected to the U.S. Senate — he hasn't even won the Republican primary — but already his name is being floated as a possible 2012 presidential contender.

One of the latest mentions comes from Richard Land, a national conservative figure and president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"The longer nobody catches fire, the more space there is for Marco," Land recently told Politico. "It wouldn't be unheard of for a freshman senator from Florida to be the nominee — particularly one who was speaker of the (Florida House).

"He's got more experience than Obama had," Land continued. "There are a lot of Hispanics in this country who would find someone with Marco's ethnic background very appealing. Although I like Sarah (Palin), I think Sarah's got a lot more impediments to a nomination than Marco Rubio does."

Rubio has tried to dismiss the Internet buzz of a possible run.

But that doesn't mean PolitiFact Florida can't dream. Which raises a real question: If the fresh-faced Rubio did run in 2012, would he have more experience than Obama did when he was elected in 2008?

To answer that question, we have to first presuppose Rubio 1) gets elected in November 2010 to the U.S. Senate and 2) decides to run for president in 2012.

If that happens, Rubio will have two years in the Senate plus nearly 11 previous years of political experience — a little less than two years as a part-time West Miami city commissioner (April 1998 — January 2000), and almost nine years in the Florida House of Representatives. (He was elected in a special election in early 2000 and served through 2008.) While in the House, Rubio served in the Republican leadership as whip, majority leader and eventually speaker.

All together that adds up to 13 years of political experience.

Before that, however, Rubio's work experiences are thin.

According to his official biography, Rubio attended South Miami Senior High School and graduated in 1989. He went to three colleges, eventually graduating from the University of Florida in 1993 with a bachelor of science, and then from law school at the University of Miami in 1996.

He then began to work for the private Miami law firm Tew Cardenas. He has worked as a lawyer with private firms on and off ever since. In 2008 and 2009, he co-instructed a class on Florida politics at Florida International University.

Contrast that with Obama.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, PolitiFact extensively researched Obama's work and political experiences.

Obama had 12 years of political experience prior to being elected president — nearly four years in the U.S. Senate (2005-2008) and eight years in the Illinois state Senate (1997-2004). Like Florida, Illinois' Legislature is considered part-time work.

That's in addition to his work before being elected to the state Senate. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, Obama worked for a year as a financial analyst, then three years as a community organizer in Chicago before going to Harvard Law School. He graduated from law school in 1991, then ran Illinois Project Vote, a voter registration drive, for much of 1992. After that, he accepted a position with the Chicago firm Miner, Barnhill & Galland and also began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1993. He taught while in the Illinois Senate.

PolitiFact determined that Obama had at least 20 years of work and political experience. By the same calculation, Rubio would have 16 years of work and political experience if he were elected president in 2012.

Rubio would have one more year as a public official, but less work experience overall.

And all experience is not equal.

Obama, when elected president, had four years in the U.S. Senate. Rubio would just have two. Of the 16 U.S. senators to have been elected president, all served at least four years in the Senate, and most served at least one full term.

Then there's Rubio's time in West Miami (pop. 5,533). Being a city commissioner in a small town certainly doesn't have the complexities of state or federal government.

That said, Obama and Rubio's state experiences certainly are comparable — Rubio served almost nine years in Florida's state House, including two years as House speaker, to Obama's eight in Illinois' state Senate.

If elected in 2012, Rubio would be the country's youngest-ever president at age 41.

In making a hypothetical argument that Rubio could be elected president in 2012, Land said that Rubio — while young — would have more experience than Obama when he was elected in 2008 at age 47.

Rubio spent slightly more time in state government than Obama and had a more prominent role, so by that measure he has more experience than Obama did.

But if you look at time in the U.S. Senate (Obama's four years to what would be Rubio's two) and overall work and political experience (Obama's 20 years to Rubio's 16), Obama outmatches Rubio. And Obama has worked in a variety of roles, while Rubio has only been a lawyer.

As such, we rate Land's statement Barely True.

The statement

Rubio's "got more experience than Obama had."

Richard Land, in an April 7 interview with Politico

The ruling

Obama had at least 20 years of work and political experience when elected president in 2008, while Rubio would have 16 if he were elected president in 2012. Also, Rubio would have fewer years in the Senate and already has less varied work experience. We rule this Barely True.

PolitiFact: Comparison of Marco Rubio, Barack Obama's experience Barely True 04/18/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 18, 2010 9:05pm]
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