Marco Rubio: the Republican Party's rising star

The Florida senator has touched a chord with average voters as well as the party elite – but exactly how moderate is he?

Marco Rubio exceeded all expectations in the Iowa caucuses this week, coming in third behind rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. With the race for the White House now shifting to New Hampshire, the Florida senator is the surprise favourite to secure the Republican nomination.

Born in Miami to Cuban immigrants, Rubio's rags-to-riches story has touched a chord with the Grand Old Party's voters, while his rapid rise to power impressed many within its elite.

"If Republican strategists were to assemble their ideal presidential candidate in a factory, a product resembling Rubio would come rolling off the conveyor belts," says the BBC's Tom Geoghegan.

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Rubio ticks all the boxes: he's young, charismatic, a clear communicator, good on television and he has an American Dream life story. He also "keeps gaffes to a minimum", adds the journalist.

Democrat Dan Gelber, a former colleague, once said: "When Marco Rubio speaks, young women swoon, old women faint and toilets flush themselves."

On a more personal level, he is a lifelong American football fan, hates disco music and his wife is a former Miami Dolphin cheerleader.

Though it's unlikely either politician will appreciate the comparison, pundits have likened Rubio's campaign to Barack Obama's bid in 2008. "[He's] a young senator in a hurry and a dynamic speaker pitching an optimistic message calling for a new generation of leadership," says The Guardian.

Rubio has mastered another technique successfully employed by Obama, says The Atlantic's Peter Beinart. "When faced with a controversial issue, he doffs his cap to the other side, pleads for civility, insists that it's a hard call – and then comes out exactly where you'd expect him to come out."

While many argue the Senator is the more moderate candidate – especially when compared to Cruz and Trump – others point out that many of his policies veer strongly to the right.

"If his warmongering and tax cuts for the wealthy are what counts as moderate in today's GOP, the Democrats should feel awfully good about their chances in 2016," Sean Illing writes for Salon.

Rubio also backs the reversal of marriage equality for gay couples, has opposed federal action to help prevent violence against women and is vehemently anti-abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. "Rubio's youthful exuberance masks his old and regressive ideas," says Illing.

And after once backing policies aimed at limiting greenhouse emissions, he is now a climate-change denier. "He'll say anything to pander to the right, even if it contradicts what he's said before," says Mother Jones.

Regardless, Rubio is the bookies' favourite to win. He "probably has the best chance of anybody of being nominated", says Stu Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Not everyone is so optimistic, with Anthony Zurcher writing for the BBC that there are still many potential stumbling blocks and possible pitfalls Rubio must navigate if he wants the nomination.

"While he and his supporters are saying all the right things about not getting ahead of themselves, it's a political truth that it's a lot easier to climb the hill than stay on top," he adds.

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