Tonight is the big night at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
But the much-anticipated speech by presidential nominee Mitt Romney is not the only thing people are excited about.
There is almost equal enthusiasm—and, perhaps, more in some delegations on the floor and some U.S. living rooms—for the man who will introduce the Massachusetts governor, even though he got passed up for the No. 2 job: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“Absolutely, and for so many of us,” said Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl).
“We are all so proud of him. He’s from Florida. He’s a hard worker. He’s our own local boy done good. But it’s more than that,” Diaz-Balart told VOXXI. “Marco Rubio really is an example of what the United States is all about. He represents the future. He proves that this is truly the land of opportunity.
“Marco Rubio is not only symbolic of that, but very few people can explain it, can talk about it, like he can,” the Congressman said.
He may have to tone it down, though. Otherwise, Rubio—who has that uncanny ability to not just connect with people but hold them—could very well outshine the man of the hour, who has significantly less star power.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
“Have they said to you, ‘Hey, charisma boy, take it down a notch,’” asked Jon Stewart when he had Rubio on The Daily Show’s Tampa set on Tuesday.
“I’ve never been called that,” Rubio shot back.
Get used to it, Senator.
Rubio told Stewart the Republican National Committee did not give him any rules.
“The only thing they’ve asked me to do is introduce the governor. They’ve given me 15 minutes to say anything I want,” he said.
So what will he include in his quarter hour of fame? He hasn’t told even his closest friends and fellow legislators, but chances are he will hit the same themes he has hammered for months: President Barack Obama’s “failed policies,” economic reform and free market advocacy.
While he did talk about immigration at a reception by the Hispanic Leadership Network and said it was a “political football” that neither party would fix as long as it was a fuel for votes and campaign cash, he is not expected to bring it up tonight. And that’s unfortunate. Because more than anybody else in a leadership position, Rubio’s middle-of-the-line position on immigration is something middle America needs to hear.
God knows they don’t need to hear his hokey car insurance joke again—the same tired punchline he gives at every speech peppered with Spanish when he turns back to English: “I was just telling them how I saved tons on my car insurance.” (Senator, let me write you some new material)
But more than anything, people who know Rubio expect him to talk about optimism.
“I haven’t bumped into him so I don’t know,” Diaz-Balart told VOXXI. “But I expect he will talk about the fact that this country can once again be the leader of the world. Marco Rubio represents the optimism or the hope for this country. He represents courage and that’s the kind of leadership the American people need and deserve.”
And it’s not just Floridians or Latinos who will be hanging on his every word. VOXXI spoke with several non-Hispanic delegates and guests of the convention from Iowa, Texas, New York and South Carolina, among others, over the last few days who were (1) disappointed that Romney chose Paul Ryan over the Spanish-speaking superstar and (2) only wanted to talk about what Rubio might say Thursday night, not what the headliner would bring up in his first national address as the official nominee.
“I just love Marco Rubio,” said Carroll Duncan, a delegate from South Carolina. She fully expects, as do many, for Rubio to become the country’s first Hispanic president. Even Jon Stewart hinted at it during his show.
“You, my friend, you dodged it,” Stewart told the senator. “Because let’s say he wins. As his vice president, it would have been uncomfortable for you tu run against him in 2016.”
Rubio’s speech should catapult him even further into the national political conscious of the thousands at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and millions across America who learned of the charismatic legislator only months ago as he was one of the top considerations on Romney’s vice presidential shortlist.
“Tonight, America will find out what Florida already knows—that Marco Rubio is one of the most dynamic and inspirational leaders in the Republican Party’s history,” Congressman David Rivera told VOXXI.
Not to mention, a glimpse into the party’s future.
“No doubt that same dynamism will set the stage perfectly for Gov. Romney to similarly inspire America with his remarks,” Rivera said.
In other words, maybe some of that hypnotic charm will rub off on the next speaker, as sometimes happens. Or maybe the senator’s magnetic energy will keep the stage charged long enough for Romney to ride his charismatic coattails.
Maybe Rubio can fire up the crowd enough to last them through Romney’s address. Or even through Nov. 6.