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Rise and stall: The political trajectory of Marco Rubio

The political trajectory of Sen. Marco Rubio took off about seven years ago. It has been steady and at times soaring as he reached the top tier of presidential candidates - elbowing a mentor out of the way - but now Rubio's fortunes are in free fall. When the final Florida primary votes are cast Tuesday, he is expected to get beat by Donald Trump, and his future moves to the place Rubio hates most: uncertainty.  [Paul Sancya | Associated Press]

The political trajectory of Sen. Marco Rubio took off about seven years ago. It has been steady and at times soaring as he reached the top tier of presidential candidates - elbowing a mentor out of the way - but now Rubio's fortunes are in free fall. When the final Florida primary votes are cast Tuesday, he is expected to get beat by Donald Trump, and his future moves to the place Rubio hates most: uncertainty. [Paul Sancya | Associated Press]

Marco Rubio was on the phone with a proposal: I'd like to drive up from Miami to talk about my future.

Tony DiMatteo, a Republican leader in Pinellas County, was surprised by the call from the former Florida House speaker and flattered that Rubio would travel four hours to see him. He wasn't sure what Rubio was after.

A couple of days later, on March 6, 2009, Rubio, DiMatteo and three others slid into a private booth at Bascom's Chop House in Clearwater. Shrimp and ahi tuna appetizers arrived. DiMatteo ordered a Jack and diet. Rubio, noting that he had a long drive home, had iced tea.

Rubio had been out of politics less than a year, but watching the presidential election left him craving "the energy and ups and downs of campaigns." What would DiMatteo think if Rubio ran for the U.S. Senate seat that Mel Martinez was giving up? Or what about governor, if rumors were true that the Senate seat was Gov. Charlie Crist's for the taking?

DiMatteo reacted swiftly on the governor's race. "If you run against (Bill) McCollum, you're on your own buddy," he said of the attorney general who had good friends in Pinellas. I'm more interested in federal issues anyway, Rubio responded.

Crist was being coy about his Senate aspirations, but Washington Republicans courted the popular first-term governor and his national ambitions were obvious. Just five weeks before this dinner, Rubio himself was quoted in the Tampa Bay Times saying Crist would clear the field and be "the best candidate" for Senate.

As the steaks arrived, DiMatteo told Rubio of bubbling discontent with Crist, who had paid little attention to local pols once elected. Worse, Crist had angered conservatives by supporting President Barack Obama's stimulus plan, even hugging Obama at a rally in Fort Myers only a month earlier. "A picture's worth 1,000 words," DiMatteo said.

DiMatteo said he could orchestrate a series of straw polls around Florida, confident they would be lopsided in Rubio's favor. The publicity would stoke anti-Crist sentiment.

Rubio's face brightened. "Can you get it done?"

DiMatteo's friend Tommy Minkoff paid the check. Rubio got into his red F-150 pickup as the last of a Florida sunset turned to night. He drove home to Miami, worried he might hit a deer.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Tony DiMatteo, a Pinellas Republican leader, sits at Bascom's Chop House in Clearwater on March 9. In 2009, he and three others met Marco Rubio there to discuss Rubio's political future.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Marco Rubio inscribed this note for Tony DiMatteo in a copy of Rubio's book called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future, put together soon after Rubio became speaker of the Florida House.

• • •

The political trajectory of Marco Rubio took off not long after that Clearwater dinner seven years and seven days ago. It has been steady and at times soaring as he reached the top tier of presidential candidates — elbowing a mentor out of the way — but now Rubio's fortunes are in free fall.

When the final Florida primary votes are cast Tuesday, he is expected to get beat by Donald Trump, and his future moves to the place Rubio hates most: uncertainty.

This portrait comes from Tampa Bay Times interviews of more than 40 people who know and or worked for Rubio, as well as documents and more than a decade of journalistic coverage of the senator. Rubio and his staff declined to be interviewed.

The traits of Rubio's success, as they often are in politics, make up the foundations of his failings. Impatience. Ambition. Opportunism. Confidence on the campaign trail, indecision in the halls of power.

Once thought to be the most marketable Republican in a crowded field, a young Hispanic candidate who could beat Hillary Clinton and make history, Rubio seems to have few allies to call on.

DiMatteo helped Rubio after that dinner. He sums up Rubio this way: "He is extremely skilled and ambitious. He is also extremely not loyal."

• • •

Courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio's office

Mario and Oriales Rubio, seated in center, pose with family and friends on the day of their wedding. They came to the United States from Cuba in 1956.

Marco Antonio Rubio was born May 28, 1971, in Miami, the third child of Mario and Oriales Rubio, who came to the United States from Cuba in 1956.

Mr. Rubio, a security guard in Havana, worked as a bartender at the Roney Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach while trying unsuccessfully to launch a variety of businesses, from a vegetable stand to a dry cleaner. The couple bought their first home in 1966 in Coral Gate, a neighborhood near Little Havana. Marco played with his younger sister Veronica on a swing set out back and on Saturday evenings attended Mass with his mother at St. Raymond Catholic Church down the street.

In his 2012 memoir, An American Son, Rubio writes how the family would go to IHOP on Sundays, and he would complain about how long it took for the pancakes to arrive, causing his father to do the same. "I struggle with impatience to this day, and when I exhibit the weakness at a restaurant or in some other public place, my wife will remind me that I am behaving like that six-year-old at IHOP."

Courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio's office

In Las Vegas, where the family moved in 1979, a young Marco played in the Southern Nevada Youth Football Conference in 1982.

His father took a job managing an apartment complex in Hialeah but new owners left him unemployed. By the end of the 1970s, opportunities were tough in a city buckling under the violence of an explosive drug trade. In 1979, the family moved to Las Vegas, where Oriales' sister lived. The same sister had converted to the Mormon Church and enlisted the Rubios. (They would later revert back to Catholicism.) Marco played Pop Warner football and attended a school populated by Mexicans and African-Americans. He tried to fit in by watching Soul Train and listening to Michael Jackson. His father worked as a bartender at Sam's Town; his mother as a maid on the casino floor of the Imperial Palace Hotel.

But they soured on Vegas, where Marco was earning F's at school, and returned to Florida in 1985. The teenager looked forward to a version of home he saw on Miami Vice. He would get an intimate portrait when his older sister's husband was arrested in 1987 for his role in a cocaine trafficking ring and spent more than 11 years in prison.

Rubio's grades weren't much better at South Miami High, graduating with a 2.1 grade-point average, though he reveled in his status as a starting free safety for the Cobras and newfound attention from girls. He went to Tarkio College in Missouri, choosing it for the financial aid package and a chance to switch to wide receiver. The school was crumbling under bankruptcy, however, and Rubio ended up at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville and later transferred to the University of Florida.

In the summer of 1991, Rubio got an internship with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. He didn't like the grunt work of answering phones and making copies, but saw the post as a resume builder and networking opportunity. He wound up with something better: Meeting Jeanette Dousdebes, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, at a friend's house. Their first date was to see Robin Hood starring Kevin Costner.

A year later, Rubio volunteered for Lincoln Diaz-Balart's first congressional campaign. "I spent the entire summer learning Miami politics from the ground up. I met people who would be of invaluable assistance to me some day," Rubio wrote. Sure enough, he was admitted to the University of Miami Law School with recommendation letters from Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart.

Courtesy of the Rubio campaign

As a 24-year-old law student, Rubio worked for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign in Florida.

In 1996, he returned to politics, joining the Bob Dole campaign. Florida chairman Al Cardenas interviewed Rubio over a cup of café con leche and hired him immediately, impressed with his enthusiasm. A photograph shows Rubio in an office creating a handwritten sign about Dole's opponent, Bill Clinton: "Stop lying to America."

One day Rubio's campaign friends ripped in half a Dole campaign sign and combined the bottom with the top of a sign from a local candidate also named Rubio, creating "Rubio for President."

• • •

Courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio's office

After getting engaged on Valentine's Day in 1997 at the Empire State Building, Rubio and Jeanette Dousdebes were married on Oct. 17, 1998. Here the newlyweds pose with Rubio's parents.

Valentine's Day 1997: Rubio proposed to Jeanette at the Empire State Building. They married the following October, and Rubio jumped on stage with the band and sang My Way and New York, New York. Things were falling into place for Jeanette, too; she made the Miami Dolphins' cheerleading squad. Cardenas had given Rubio a job at his law firm with a starting salary of $57,000 — the first of several jobs he would score due to political connections. It was around that time that Cardenas introduced Rubio to Jeb Bush, who as Dade County GOP chairman in the 1980s had grown the party by appealing to young Cubans and other Hispanics.

In 1998 Bush and Rubio crossed paths as candidates — Bush making his second attempt at governor and Rubio running for his first political office, a seat on the West Miami City Commission.

Bush sent Rubio a $50 check, which Rubio showed off to friends.

The skills Rubio picked up working for Diaz-Balart and Dole became useful. He calculated it would take 12 weeks to visit every voting household in West Miami. By knocking on doors in the heavily Cuban neighborhoods, "I discovered who I was," Rubio wrote. "I was an heir to two generations of unfulfilled dreams. I was the end of their story."

That campaign formed the basis for the American Dream narrative that is the core of his appeal to voters.

Rubio won easily, and as he celebrated, the phone rang — a congratulatory call from Bush.

Courtesy of the Rubio campaign

In 1998, Rubio easily won a seat on the West Miami City Commission, but he left the four-year position after only one year to run for the Florida House.

The commission seat was for four years, but Rubio quit after one. He jumped at the chance to run for a state House seat that suddenly opened in 1999. He was up against a well-known Spanish-language radio host, but Rubio was eloquent in both Spanish and English and won over Anglos in Coral Gables on the way to a tight win.

In Tallahassee he looked so young that Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings once mistakenly asked him to make copies. But Rubio had arrived in the capital with most everyone aware that his friends included Cardenas and Bush.

"He came highly recommended and had great potential," said former legislator Mike Fasano of Pasco County. Fasano was the incoming House majority leader in 2000 and made Rubio one of his two whips. Rubio was energetic on the House floor, giving speeches and making friends, though he showed little interest in the mechanics of legislating.

Mornings in a conference room on the third floor of the Capitol, usually over light breakfast and coffee, Fasano and his team sat around a table and ran through pending legislation, laying out strategy. "Where's Rep. Rubio?" Fasano would often ask, eliciting familiar laughter.

"He was never anywhere to be found."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, House Speaker Tom Feeney formed a special committee, and Rubio landed one of 12 highly desired spots. Florida, where some of the attackers had taken flying lessons, was on edge and the committee was to explore a range of policies to tighten security across the state, from tourist attractions in Orlando to better tracking of foreigners. But there, too, Rubio missed work, failing to show for six out of 15 meetings, according to records obtained from the state.

Courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio's office

On the day he became Florida House speaker, Rubio posed with Mike Fasano, who, as House majority leader in 2000, had made Rubio one of his two whips.

• • •

In 2002, Rubio was working on behalf of another Cuban lawmaker who was trying to become House speaker, Gaston Cantens. Rubio went to see Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a kingmaker in Dade politics who had connections across the state.

"They knew I had a relationship with the good old boys," said Martinez, a Democrat.

A couple of days later, Martinez had bad news for Rubio: Cantens didn't have the juice. He was losing to a Panama City lawmaker named Allan Bense.

Cantens, in fact, was getting in the way of Rubio's own ambition because there was no way House members would elect back-to-back speakers from Dade; the position generally rotates around the state.

Martinez said Rubio could work to take over after Bense. "If you play it right, you can be speaker," he told him.

"No, no, no, I don't want to be speaker," Rubio quickly replied.

"Twenty-four hours later," Martinez said, "he comes back and closes the door and says, 'You think I can be speaker?' "

With his friend out of the way, Rubio began to gather his own pledges for the 2006-08 term. He formed two political committees and began to raise hundreds of thousands in special interest money to further his goals. One committee was specifically to help other candidates and raised $386,000, but he gave away only $4,000. The rest went to consultants and covered Rubio's travel around the state as he tried to persuade lawmakers to get behind him. He paid some money to himself and his wife.

To gain enough votes for speaker, he still needed to make a deal.

Legislators in North Florida had long objected to a complicated "district cost differential" formula that provided more school money to urban areas because of the higher cost of living.

Rubio promised to support a change that would redistribute a greater share of the money. The concession swung support for his speakership from the North Florida delegations.

"When I confronted Marco, he swore up and down that he would get that back as soon as he became speaker," said Martinez. "It told me he would sell his soul to reach his objective. He's disloyal to his own people, the people who gave him his start."

"We're still waiting," Martinez added of Rubio's promise to reverse the change, which has drained millions away from Rubio's home base; one study showed Miami-Dade schools have lost as much as $1 billion.

Martinez said Rubio would call him all the time but suddenly stopped in 2005 when Martinez left office. A couple of years later, Rubio asked to meet for lunch at a Latin American cafeteria in West Miami. He was thinking about running for Miami-Dade mayor and wanted help. Over a Cuban sandwich, Martinez let him have it: "I wouldn't support you for dog catcher."

• • •

Phil Coale | Associated Press

Rep. Marco Rubio holds a sword presented to him by Gov. Jeb Bush during ceremonies on Sept. 13, 2005, designating Rubio as the next Florida speaker of the House in Tallahassee.

Steve Cannon | Associated Press

Now, as the new speaker of the Florida House, Rubio, greets Gov. Bush, on his way to being sworn in on Nov. 21, 2006, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

During the speaker designation ceremony in 2005, Gov. Bush gave Rubio a sword signifying he was passing the conservative torch.

In Rubio, Bush had someone eager to champion his policies. For Rubio, it meant a friendship with the state's most influential man. One of his first moves as speaker was to hire 18 members of Bush's staff. To make way he put 10 longtime House staffers on notice they might not retain their jobs — an act that became known around the Capitol as Black Monday.

With power came opportunity. Rubio landed a $300,000 job at Broad & Cassel, a law firm with considerable lobbying interests before the state. While previous law firms chaffed at his work in politics, the new job ensured Rubio would not have to bill many hours. The speaker post came with another perk: Access to a state GOP credit card. Rubio routinely charged personal expenses, from a $10.50 movie ticket to a four-day, $10,000 family reunion, which Rubio says was a mistake and he later covered.

The 2007 session opened with Rubio as the first Cuban-American speaker and the first from Miami in three decades. He was 35 years old. "I don't remember such an incredible rise through power as Marco has accomplished," Cardenas marveled at the time.

He is best known for a book called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future, filled with proposals from upgrades to state building codes to an increase in education tax credits for companies. The concepts were drawn from lawmakers and people across the state who attended "idea raisers." The book was dreamed up by Richard Corcoran, a Rubio staffer who will become speaker next year, but Rubio was the face of the project and reaped the attention. The book is copyrighted in his name.

Rubio traveled the state to promote the book, making contacts he would rely on later for his Senate race. He got messaging and polling help from Frank Luntz, now a well-known Fox News figure. Newt Gingrich hailed Rubio as a visionary. Bush wrote a glowing foreword.

Allies and enemies saw the book as expensive self-promotion, draining party resources and staff time. Luntz alone was paid more than $340,000.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio joins Gov. Charlie Crist meet with several hundred Miami-Dade County residents in Tallahassee to answer their questions on Jan. 17, 2007, during a special legislative session on insurance.

The one idea that grabbed attention was called the "tax swap." Property taxes on primary homes would be eliminated in favor of a 2.5 percent sales tax increase. It was a bold idea giving Rubio statewide exposure and national media coverage. His timing was exquisite, coming amid rising public outrage over rising taxes. Some of the most strident activists who flocked to him would later help form the tea party.

Practically, though, the swap was unrealistic, and Crist and the Florida Senate blocked it. They saw Rubio's plan as regressive and viewed the speaker as a showman with little substance. Crist prevailed with a simpler tax plan.

Forced out by term limits, Rubio left office in 2008 with few major accomplishments, known more for his charisma and ambition, the political jock who pulled off his suit jacket on the House floor to catch a bullet pass from Dan Marino.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

As the outgoing Florida House speaker, Rubio shows off the portrait that will hang in the state Capitol in Tallahassee on May 2, 2008.

• • •

Rubio could barely imagine life outside politics. He even called a reporter one night after hours to test his reaction to a series of political possibilities: a run for state Senate or a statewide office in 2010, a challenge to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012 or a run for governor in 2014.

As he contemplated the options, Rubio's political connections provided a soft landing. He got an unadvertised teaching position at Florida International University that paid $69,000 — just as the school was facing a $32 million budget shortfall, raising tuition and cutting staff. Rubio brushed off the criticism, and students said the class was engaging.

The position was underwritten by Rubio's longtime benefactor, Norman Braman, a billionaire car dealer in Miami and former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles who was grateful for Rubio's help in securing funding for the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute in Miami. (Braman has given at least $6 million to a super PAC supporting Rubio's presidential campaign.)

Rubio also started a consulting business and landed a $96,000 contract with Jackson Memorial Hospital and a $102,000-a-year deal with Miami Children's Hospital. He denied lobbying, saying he provided "strategic consulting" and access to contacts he made as House speaker. He also got a job as a pundit for Univision. The pay wasn't "spectacular," Rubio wrote, but he learned the news business from the inside and "the on-air work also helped keep me in the public eye, especially with the Spanish-speaking voters in Miami-Dade who were my political base."

He was riveted by the presidential election, particularly the oratory of the young Democratic nominee. He marveled at Obama, "a compelling figure, with an extraordinary gift for public speaking. His soaring rhetoric, almost poetic at times, but always seeming so calm and reasonable, blurred the lines between right and left and spoke to a nation weary of angry partisanship."

It has been lost on no one that Rubio has modeled his presidential campaign on Obama — a junior senator and minority who, despite little experience, will grow the party with vision and optimism about the future.

"If there's someone who can pull it off it's probably Marco," said former state Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who worked with Rubio. "You listen to his storylines and they are our storylines. He has packaged trickle-down economics as well as anyone has. Talk about giving the donor class a wet kiss and telling the suffering middle class this is good for them. It's maddening."

• • •

Al Diaz | Miami Herald

Marco Rubio celebrates as he announces that he has clinched a seat in the U.S. Senate on the Nov. 2, 2010, election night at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Buoyed by the dinner with DiMatteo, Rubio jumped in the Senate race seven days before Crist. Three months later, DiMatteo started delivering on the straw polls. Pasco County: Rubio 73, Crist 9. Highlands County: Rubio 75, Crist 1.

Yet Rubio was stunned in July when Crist released his first fundraising report: $4.3 million in 50 days, a record haul in Florida. Rubio raised $340,000.

He panicked and told Cardenas to see if it was too late to run for attorney general instead. "I wanted to take the easiest path available to elected office and I made up all sorts of rationalizations to disguise my cowardice."

In an ironic twist to the saga between Florida's two most ambitious politicians, Crist and Rubio cut a deal. Rubio would get out of the Senate race in return for Crist's endorsement for attorney general.

"Oh my God, you pulled off the coup of the century," Crist gushed to state party chairman Jim Greer.

Bush got word and called Rubio.

"What are you doing, man? You want to be a United States senator, don't you?" Rubio's wife also couldn't believe he might wimp out.

"I believe now God wanted me in a hopeless situation, where my scheming and calculating wouldn't save me," Rubio wrote.

But there was another calculation at play: Rubio figured losing a U.S. Senate race was better for his national game plan than running for attorney general.

So he trudged on and things began to change. DiMatteo's straw polls created buzz and attention from Washington. Sen. Jim DeMint, a staunch conservative from South Carolina, became the first nationally known figure to endorse Rubio. In September, the venerable National Review ran a cover story on Rubio with the headline "Yes, HE CAN," a play on Obama's "Yes, we can." Campaign donations picked up from Florida and beyond.

Even more important, the tea party became a force that summer. Anti-government conservatives were drawn to Rubio's rally cry against the stimulus and mounting government debt. Rubio blasted Crist over The Hug. In January 2010, the New York Times Magazine put Rubio on its cover and asked, "The First Senator from the Tea Party?"

The same month DiMatteo delivered one more devastating straw poll, in Crist's home county of Pinellas — 106-54 for Rubio. Within days, state polls had Rubio ahead of Crist for the first time.

DiMatteo was ready for his payback. He had asked Rubio for help in securing votes to become the next state party chairman. Rubio had his own self-interest, pushing to get Greer removed as chairman because he rightfully feared Greer would help Crist. DiMatteo says Rubio promised to call around to party leaders across the state and put in a word for him. Rubio did nothing even as he publicly credited the straw polls for his campaign success.

DiMatteo confronted Rubio and said: "I never thought another man could break my heart."

• • •

Tom Williams | Roll Call via Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio and his sons Anthony, 5, right, and Dominic, 3, make their way to a swearing in ceremony for the 112th Congress in the Old Senate Chamber on Jan. 5, 2011.

Rubio was sworn into office Jan. 5, 2011. He was 39 and before he even cast his first vote was being talked about as a vice presidential candidate. "It's a circus, you guys are part of the circus," Rubio told the Tampa Bay Times.

The tea party now had a legitimate star and came calling. DeMint lobbied Rubio to help form a tea party caucus. But despite the winds that carried him to Washington, Rubio refused. He tried to finesse the relationship, calling the tea party "a movement of everyday citizens from all walks of life. That's the strength of the tea party: that it's not a political organization run by people out of Washington. My concern is a tea party caucus could intrude on that." DeMint was angered.

In office just eight months, Rubio formed the Reclaim America PAC with the stated goal of "electing conservatives to the United States Senate." But as he had years earlier while angling for House speaker, Rubio used much of the money for himself — giving less than $1 to candidates out of every $20 spent, according to an analysis by National Journal. Rubio used the money to put together a campaign staff and fundraising operation that would set him up for later.

J Pat Carter | Associated Press

Mitt Romney hugs Marco Rubio after Rubio introduced him to the crowd during a stop in Miami on Aug. 13, 2012, during Romney's run for president.

The media circus turned out to be not all wrong. The young senator was vetted as a possible vice presidential candidate for Mitt Romney in 2012. After Romney's defeat, including a loss in crucial swing state Florida and strikingly little support among Hispanics and minorities, many in the party wondered whether in fact Rubio would have been a better running mate than Paul Ryan.

Could Rubio do for Republicans what Obama had done for Democrats? "The Republican Savior" Time dubbed him on the cover of an issue in February 2013 that explained "How Marco Rubio became the new voice of the GOP."

In an extraordinary irony, the issue that would propel Rubio would also bring him down.

Immigration.

• • •

As a Senate candidate in Florida, Rubio was against Arizona's tough new law then for it. He opposed a path to citizenship for undocumented residents then was for one.

In Washington, seven esteemed senators from both parties tapped Rubio, the son of immigrants, to help them bridge the unbelievably tough issue and finally get a bill passed. Rubio stepped in despite the political risk.

He made private appeals to cable TV and talk radio hosts. He quietly visited News Corp's headquarters in Manhattan, with liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer to court chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the New York Times recently reported. Bill O'Reilly went on air and endorsed the bill.

Rubio turned his eloquence and power of persuasion against conservatives, firing back with counter arguments and appearing constantly on news shows. He referred to President Ronald Reagan's 1986 amnesty — "mistakes that were made when I was in ninth grade, by the way" — to show the problem had existed for a long time. "They've been here longer than a decade. They're having children that are U.S. citizens," Rubio said, trying to humanize the situation. "They live among us. They're probably going to be here for the rest of their lives, and leaving what we have in place is de facto amnesty." Fellow Gang of Eight senators were impressed.

But Rubio's tea party supporters back in Florida — indeed, across the country — were stunned and outraged he was working on legislation that provided an "earned" (through fines and other measures) path to citizenship, the very thing he called "amnesty" in an October 2010 debate with Crist.

"The lying has cost him greatly. It was betrayal, frustration," said Joyce Kaufman, a South Florida radio host and tea party activist who promoted Rubio during the campaign. "They all love you when they need you."

Rubio tried to manage both sides, pushing for tougher enforcement measures but also dropping his demand that someone would have to be in the country five years to qualify for a path to citizenship, up from the one year Democrats wanted. The final bill settled on anyone who could prove they were in the country Dec. 1, 2011. Rubio also pushed for an increase in H-1B visas, and later, campaign money poured in from Silicon Valley, infuriating conservatives more.

This was the consequence of statesmanship and bipartisan dealings. Rubio started to crack.

He started sending mixed signals about his support and latched on to an amendment offered by senators outside the Gang of Eight that dramatically scaled up enforcement measures of a bill that Rubio had already said was the toughest in history.

His waffling irritated colleagues behind closed doors. During one meeting, Sen. John McCain disgustingly pointed out a Washington Post story with a hedge-heavy quote from Rubio.

After the bill passed the Senate on June 27, 2013, the Gang of Eight held a celebratory news conference and implored the House to take it up. Rubio never showed.

• • •

Mark J. Terrill | Associated Press

During the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, on Oct. 28, 2015, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush argue a point as Donald Trump looks on.

Oct. 28, 2015: The GOP presidential candidates are on the debate stage in Boulder, Colo.

Bush: "Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work. I mean, literally the Senate, what is it, like a French workweek? You get like three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job. There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida as well. They are looking for a senator that will fight for them each and every day."

Rubio: "I get to respond, right?"

Moderator: "30 seconds."

Rubio: "Over the last few weeks, I have listened to Jeb as he's walked around the country and said that you're modeling your campaign after John McCain; that you're going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. … I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.

"Here's the bottom line. My campaign is going to be about the future of America. It's not going to be about attacking anyone else on this stage. I will continue to have tremendous admiration and respect for Governor Bush. I'm not running against Governor Bush. I'm not running against anyone on this stage. I am running for president, because there is no way we can elect Hillary Clinton."

The comments shut down Bush and the debate moved on.

• • •

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio stands with his wife, Jeanette Rubio, and their children after announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at the Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015, in Miami.

On April 10, 2015, the Tampa Bay Times published its Florida Insider Poll, asking more than 130 savvy political players who would be the stronger candidate to take on Hillary Clinton in the state: Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Nearly 80 percent picked the former governor, an overwhelming sign of Bush's stature. "Most FL Republican heavyweights are supporting Jeb and see Marco running against him as an act of disloyalty towards his mentor. It will complicate possible future aspirations in FL, should he not win," said one Republican.

In the year since, an unimaginable scenario has come to pass: Bush is out of the race and Rubio is expected to get beat — in Florida.

"He's like an orchid," veteran Republican strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich said. "Attractive. But without deep roots. Without roots, it's hard to hold in a storm, and we're in a storm. Marco's bright, he's telegenic, he's got a great back story, he's eloquent. All that was lacking was experience, the roots. Even if he had been Florida governor for eight years, his message might not have been the winning message this year because he's not bitter and angry and willing to exploit the bitterness and anger of others."

National ambition kept Rubio's eye off Florida. He failed to get get involved in some key state issues while accumulating an abysmal attendance record in Washington.

Those who know Rubio and admire his political skill say they are not surprised that he made it this far in a field that once had 17 candidates. Yet they are also not surprised that this is likely to be as far as he goes, this time.

Look no further than the reality that Bush — despite all his talk of the perils of a Trump nomination — has not endorsed his one-time protégé and fellow Floridian.

In his hurry-up journey to win elections, Rubio finds himself battling a lack of a substantial record and a lack of pals in the trenches.

DiMatteo, Rubio's one-time operative, has already voted. For Trump.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Adam C. Smith contributed. Contact Alex Leary at aleary@tampabay.com. Follow @learyreports.

Rise and stall: The political trajectory of Marco Rubio 03/11/16 [Last modified: Sunday, March 13, 2016 5:03pm]
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