Marco Rubio says his family is on board for a White House campaign in 2016, and he insists that no amount of money Jeb Bush raises will deter him from running.
The “last remaining issue” he must resolve, Rubio told National Journal, is the most fundamental one: Does he want to pursue his agenda from the safe confines of the U.S. Senate, or give up his seat to run for president? Rubio by law cannot seek both offices simultaneously and has said he won’t try. Now, after months of wrestling over which race to run, Rubio admits the clock is ticking on a final decision: His rivals are gearing up to run, and he’s in the spotlight, for now, with the release of his new book.
“I understand that running for the presidency requires you to make that decision soon enough so you can put together a campaign, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that if that’s the decision I make,” Rubio said in an interview Friday. “But I haven’t made the decision yet.”
But even as he insists a final verdict on running hasn’t been reached, Rubio acknowledged that several major hurdles to a 2016 candidacy have been cleared.
For starters, Rubio said his young family—whom he calls his “No. 1 priority”—is supportive of a White House campaign.
“I’m always concerned about my family,” Rubio said. “But I think we’ve surmounted those concerns.”
The senator explained that his wife and children understood when he ran for Congress in 2010 that if elected, he could quickly become a national figure—and soon be considered for national office.
“When it comes to the aspects of running for president, I think we clearly understand what it means, the sacrifice it entails—not just for the next 18 months, but for the next eight years of service to our country. And it’s a decision we’ve made in terms of being prepared to do that,” Rubio said. “So that issue has been surmounted in my mind.”
Another key question Rubio said has been addressed is one of viability—that is, the belief that he would attract the money and organization needed to be competitive as a candidate. The Republican field is expected to be deep, talented, and well-financed. At the front of the pack is Bush, the former Florida governor who, Bloomberg Politics reported this week, is aiming to raise $100 million in the first quarter of 2014 to dissuade would-be challengers.
Rubio, for his part, said Bush’s fundraising prowess won’t “scare” him away from the race.
“I certainly think he’s capable of raising $100 million, maybe even more,” Rubio said of Bush. “As I’ve said, if Jeb Bush runs for president he’s going to be a very formidable candidate for multiple reasons—including the ability to raise money. But I’m confident that if I make the decision that the best place for me to serve our country and achieve the agenda of restoring the America Dream is to be president, I’m confident that I can raise enough money and put together an organization that will give me a chance to win.”
Rubio paused, then added: “I’m past that point in my deliberations.”
Still, Rubio has already witnessed how Bush’s candidacy would complicate his own. Both hail from Florida and draw from an overlapping pool of donors. Soon after Bush’s December announcement that he would explore a presidential campaign, several of Rubio’s top fundraisers told various media outlets that they would be supporting Bush in 2016.
Rubio tried to downplay the moves, which some have portrayed as defections from his team.
“There are a lot of people that have known Jeb for a very long time and might have known me for a couple of years. They might well have cooperated with us, but they have a right to make that choice,” Rubio said. “And there are others that are supportive of me—just because they’re not in the newspaper doesn’t mean they’re not supportive of me.”
Once comrades in Tallahassee—Bush as governor, Rubio as a state representative who would eventually become speaker—they may soon find themselves on a collision course. That has spawned fresh questions about their depth of their relationship a decade ago, and whether it has withered since.
Rubio, though, quashed any speculation of a rivalry.
“We were close. I mean, we didn’t socialize and go to the movies together and that sort of thing. But he’s someone who I’ve worked with very closely throughout the years,” Rubio said. “He’s someone who I interact with even now by email and phone…. We have a very good relationship.”
That said, Rubio sounds prepared to tangle with Bush—and draw a sharp generational contrast. Rubio, who is 43, repeatedly references the need for a “21st-century candidate” who can speak to the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. When asked whether Bush, 61, is such a candidate, Rubio didn’t hesitate.
“That’s what we’re going to have a campaign about,” he said.