Tea party favorite Marco Rubio plays it safe
Marco Rubio running way ahead of Charlie Crist and KeBy Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel

Marco Rubio, who began his U.S. Senate candidacy as an insurgent challenging the Republican establishment, is now leading in public opinion polls — and careful to say nothing that would jeopardize his lead.

During an hour-long interview Monday with Sun Sentinel reporters and editors he talked broadly about major themes: ensuring the long-term future of Social Security, illegal immigration and — especially — the devastating long-term implications of the enormous federal debt.

Though he offered policy ideas in those and other areas, he avoided providing new fodder for his opponents, no party candidate Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

The strategy is safe and smart, said political scientist Robert Watson, professor of American studies at Lynn University Bachelor's, master's & online degrees in Boca Raton.

"He's being extremely cautious. This guy is just not saying anything," Watson said. "That's his goal, to be uninteresting. Don't generate a screaming headline. Why alienate someone? Just keep your head down."

A Mason-Dixon poll released Saturday showed Rubio with 40 percent of the vote, Crist with 28 percent, and Meek with 23 percent. The three candidates each have about 30 percent of the vote in southeast Florida.

A central issue for Rubio — and one dear to his most ardent supporters in the tea party movement — is the national debt.

Rubio favors a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. "You have to have spending reductions and spending discipline."

Yet he favors extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts, including those benefiting families earning more than $250,000 a year, which would add an estimated $700 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years.

And he declined to identify a specific program that benefits Broward or Palm Beach county residents that should be cut because the government can't afford it.

On Social Security, an issue dear to many Florida voters, Rubio said the system needs to be strengthened to make sure it's available for future retirees. "It's a tough issue to talk about it. My opponents are going to demagogue it."

Rubio is following mainstream Republican orthodoxy and tea party thinking by flatly ruling out any higher taxes to help Social Security. He said anyone who's to retire in the foreseeable future — 55 or older, possibly people as young as 50 — shouldn't be affected by any change.

But, he said, younger people like him — he's 39 — might have to wait longer to collect full benefits. He said that doesn't count as raising the retirement age, because people could retire younger with a smaller benefit check. And instead of talking about raising the age for full benefits, he said it would "fluctuate."

On illegal immigration, he said the nation needed a comprehensive solution. "I am a huge supporter of legal immigration," he said. Without it, he said it would be much more difficult for the economy to grow.

He said it could not include any "amnesty" or "path to legalization" for people already here illegally. He said it could include a guest worker program that would allow people to get tamper-proof identification in their home countries before coming to work in the U.S. And he said a much more limited version of the proposed Dream Act, allowing citizenship for top-performing students and people who enlist in the military could be part of a comprehensive approach.

Rubio said he doesn't favor the notion, suggested by some Republicans, of amending the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which automatically grants citizenship to anyone born in this country. Rubio said women coming to the U.S. to have babies isn't widespread.
"I don't think it has anything to do with our illegal immigration program," he said. "People come here for jobs."

Rubio described himself as "intellectually honest on the issues." And he said Meek is "intellectually honest about the things he stands for. I think he's wrong. But I respect the fact that he knows what he believes in."

He wasn't as kind to Crist, labeling him as someone who does a "political calculation" before taking, or changing, a position and putting him in the category of someone who "will say or do anything to get elected."

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4550.

Lieutenant governor candidate Jennifer Carroll campaigns in South Florida on the Broward Politics blog at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.
ndrick Meek http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/electi ... 4242.story