The presidential campaign: Marco Rubio

  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Boca Raton, Fla. on March 14, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Boca Raton, Fla. on March 14, 2016.
  • Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks during a rally in Salem, Va., on Feb. 29, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Boca Raton, Fla. on March 14, 2016.
  • Supporters cheer for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio during a rally in Salem, Va., on Feb. 29, 2016.
  • Supporters are pictured at a rally for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio in Salem, Va., on Feb. 29, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally with Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016. 
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Boca Raton, Fla.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally alongside Gov. Nikki Haley in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio holds a rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio arrives to his rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Backstage directions at the presidential rally for Sen. Marco Rubio, Columbia S.C., Feb. 19, 2016. 
  • Supporters for Sen. Marco Rubio in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Supporters for Sen. Marco Rubio in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio campaigns in New Hampshire, Feb. 5, 2016, ahead of the primaries that will be held in the state on Tuesday.
  • Marco Rubio supporters line up for a rally in Bedford, N.H., Feb. 7, 2016, ahead of the state’s primary.
  • Marco Rubio campaigns in New Hampshire, Feb. 5, 2016, ahead of the primary that will be held in the state on Tuesday.
  • Supporters listen as Marco Rubio campaigns in New Hampshire, Feb. 5, 2016, ahead of the primary that will be held in the state on Tuesday.
  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is one of three Cuban-Americans currently in the Senate. He announced his candidacy for president in April.
  • Supporters of Senator Marco Rubio attend a campaign rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 27, 2016.
  • Supporters of Senator Marco Rubio attend a campaign rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 27, 2016.
  • Marco Rubio at the Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, N.H., April 17, 2015. 
  • Senator Marco Rubio waits to speak at the Red State Gathering in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 7, 2015.
  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio sends a video message after a last-minute cancellation to attend the Economic Growth Summit, at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center.
  • Photographers photograph Marco Rubio as he speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, N.H., April 17, 2015. 
  • Senator Marco Rubio speaks at the red state gathering in Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 7, 2015. 
  • Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL} addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on March 6, 2014.

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Almost immediately after arriving in Washington on the 2010 Tea Party wave, Marco Rubio began fielding questions about when he would launch a White House run. The Florida senator checked an awful lot of presidential boxes, after all, especially for a party in search of new blood. He’s young – now 44 years old – well-spoken, bilingual, the son of Cuban immigrants, and hails from a delegate-rich swing state. In April of this year, Rubio agreed: He was “uniquely qualified” to be the GOP nominee.

Because of his youth and relatively moderate campaign rhetoric, Rubio is often touted as the Republican Party’s best hope of appealing to younger voters and an increasingly diverse general electorate – in other words, big trouble for Hillary Clinton should she win the Democratic nomination. But aside from a 2013 immigration reform package that created a pathway to citizenship, Rubio’s record is anything but moderate. He’s against Obamacare, against same-sex marriage and LGBT nondiscrimination protections, against abortion even in cases of rape or incest, against the legalization of marijuana, skeptical of the science behind climate change, pro troops on the ground to fight ISIS, and pro tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy. Rubio has also taken a hard-right turn on immigration, largely disavowing his 2013 bipartisan reform package in favor of a piecemeal approach.

Political watchers like to cast Rubio as the “establishment candidate” duking it out for the nomination against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the “insurgent.” If that’s the case, Cruz is winning at this point both in terms of polling and fundraising. But Rubio’s doing his best to turn things around. In recent weeks, he’s gone after Cruz on immigration and national security, arguing that he’s just as tough as the Texas firebrand, if not more, on issues that matter to conservative voters. This week, Rubio is going straight for Cruz’s core base of support – “traditional values” voters – with a new ad campaign targeting those who Rubio says the government has “branded bigots and haters.”

The lurch to the right may tarnish Rubio’s good standing in a general-election matchup against Clinton – one of his biggest strengths as a candidate so far. But that’s a matchup that’ll never be if he can’t win the nomination. 

These photographs were shot on assignment by photographer Mark Peterson for MSNBC Photography as part of his on-going body of work “Political Theater” which examines the landscape of the American political system.

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