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Why Marco Rubio's SOTU rebuttal may backfire

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has his work cut out for him.
the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has his work cut out for him.

The rising GOP star (he was, afterall, dubbed the party’s “savior” by Time magazine) will be delivering the first-ever bilingual State of the Union rebuttal following President Obama’s big address tonight.

No doubt, many eyes will be on Rubio—who’s viewed by many as a leading 2016 presidential contender—to see if he can win over a divided party, Hispanics, and a younger audience. But it won’t be easy.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is delivering the Tea Party State of the Union rebuttal, which puts Rubio—who is also something of a Tea Party favorite—in a rather awkward position.

Rubio, it seems, is trying to bridge the divide between the Tea Party and GOP establishment, widening the party's tent without losing his Tea Party credentials. And that's a tricky tightrope to walk

Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express—the nation's largest Tea Party political action committee—insisted to, however, that both Paul and Rubio are "on the same page" with their group.

"We consider it a tremendous victory that a Tea Party stalwart like Marco Rubio is giving the official Republican response. He is one of the Tea Party heroes," said Russo, adding their group has "always enjoyed a wide variety of divergent voices."

Still, a blockbuster performance from Rubio is no sure thing.

“He’s going toe-to-toe with the most popular person elected to office," GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told, referring to Rubio going up against Obama. "His job is to provide a response [for a party] that’s as popular in opinion polls as lice and cockroaches.”

Then there are the pure optics of the speech’s setup itself. While the president will give his address to all of the U.S. Congress amid standing ovations, Rubio will be alone in a room talking to a camera.

“Everything about the plush surroundings reminds the viewer of the glamour and grandiosity of [the president’s] office. Literally, he is so powerful that every member of Congress shows up to hear what he has to say,” conservative writer Jeb Golinkin says at

“And then they will show you [Rubio], alone. You will look young and you will give an energetic speech that reminds everyone of how cool you are. But nevertheless, you will look like a desperate mosquito, while the president resembles King George," Golinkin said.

Remember Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s much-anticipated GOP response in 2009? The speech fell flat, and Jindal looked downright silly, drawing unwanted comparisons to Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock." Many politicos said it killed his national ambitions. But Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 address went over well, and gave him major face time with Americans, many who were unfamiliar with him.  Ryan, of course, was picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate last year.

O’Connell said Rubio needs to put forth a positive narrative, which includes jobs, the economy, health care, immigration and education.  That’s a lot to accomplish in just a few minutes.

“It’s a very, very tall task. The expectations are extremely high, probably unfairly high. That’s just the nature of the game right now,” he said.