8 surprising facts about Marco Rubio

Two years ago, most Americans had never heard of Rubio. Now, the eloquent, Tea-Party-backed, disco-despising Florida senator is a top contender for Mitt Romney's VP slot

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his wife
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who's been campaigning with Mitt Romney, continued to raise his national profile this week, delivering a major foreign policy speech that was interpreted as a tryout for the vice presidential spot on the Romney ticket. Rubio is unquestionably a rising star on the Right. In 2010, he became a capital-N "name" with a landslide victory in Florida's Senate race, literally chasing the once-popular former Gov. Charlie Crist out of the party. (Crist, worried about losing a GOP primary to Rubio, ran as an independent, and got crushed.) So who exactly is this Tea Party-backed freshman senator from Florida? Here, eight things you might not know about him:

1. Rubio's parents fled Cuba... before Castro

In campaign speeches, and on his Senate website, Rubio has described himself as the son of "exiles from Castro's Cuba." But he had to backpedal when reporters discovered that his family actually left Cuba for Florida in 1956, while Fidel Castro was still plotting his revolution from Mexico. Rubio's family history has since been picked through by the media.

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2. His grandfather was ordered deported

Another wrinkle in Rubio's family history emerged on Wednesday: According to a book excerpt published by Politico, U.S. authorities wanted to deport his maternal grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia in 1962, but Garcia stayed in the U.S. anyway. The upcoming biography on Rubio by Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia says Garcia's legal status was murky for years — a potentially problematic biographical detail in a political party dominated by conservatives who want to crack down on illegal immigration.

3. Rubio was baptized a Mormon...

When Marco Rubio was 7 or 8, his family moved to Las Vegas. After the move, Marco, his mother, and sister Veronica, who were Catholics, were baptized as Mormons, encouraged by an aunt who had already converted. Marco was an active participant in his new church. "He was totally into it," cousin Michelle Denis tells BuzzFeed. But Rubio's father, a bartender, "couldn't embrace a faith that wouldn't let him drink and smoke," according to Roig-Franzia's biography.

4. ...Then embraced Catholicism again

When Rubio's family returned to Miami, Rubio, his mother, and sister converted back to Catholicism. The future senator received his first communion at 13. "He really convinced the whole family to switch religions," Michelle Denis tells Buzzfeed. "He's very vocal so he convinced them all to become Catholic."

5. He loved the Osmonds ...

"The absolute scariest aspect of Marco Rubio's biography," says Peter Schorsch at SaintPetersBlog, "is his fondness for [the] Osmonds." It came with the territory when the family lived in Nevada. The Osmonds were the most visible Mormons in the country at the time, and Rubio and his cousins were wild about them. In elementary school, Marco formed a tribute singing group with his sister and cousin to entertain relatives. "It was just the same Osmonds song at every family function," Michelle Denis said.

6. ...And hated disco

The Osmond fascination goes hand in hand with another detail about Rubio's taste in '70s music: He hates disco. From Politico: In a speech recently, Rubio said the decade was a "very frightening time" when "we had to overcome disco, and bell bottoms, and the Bee Gees."

7. Rubio played football in college

Rubio got his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida in 1993, but he started his college career on a football scholarship in Missouri at Tarkio College, which went bankrupt in the early 1990s. Rubio once caught a football thrown by legendary former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives, where he was speaker before being elected to the U.S. Senate. Rubio also has caught a pass from Tim Tebow. The lifelong football fan described those moments as the coolest things he's done in his political career.

8. His wife was a Miami Dolphins cheerleader

No stranger to a football field, Rubio's wife, Jeanette Dousdebes Rubio, was once a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. Mrs. Rubio joined the squad along with her younger sister, sometimes practicing dance moves four nights a week and posing for the squad's first swimsuit calendar. On game days, the future senator shouted encouragement from the stands. "He seemed like a supportive, really nice boyfriend," Dorie Grogan, the team's senior director of entertainment, tells the Tampa Bay Times.

Sources: BuzzFeed, Politico (2), SaintPetersBlog, Tampa Bay Times

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