Florida Sen. Marco Rubio likes to remind GOP primary voters of the long odds he faced running for the Senate in 2010.
“Everybody in the Republican establishment came forward and said, ‘You can’t run, it’s not your turn, you’ve got to wait in line,’ ” Mr. Rubio told the crowd at a recent campaign stop in early-voting Iowa.
The underdog narrative helps Mr. Rubio cast himself as a political outsider to a party desperate for change. But it glosses over a basic fact: The 44-year-old Florida senator has spent the bulk of his working life in politics, reared by the party whose leaders he occasionally campaigns against.
This tension between Rubio the insider and Rubio the outsider cuts to the heart of his biggest challenge in the Republican primary—positioning himself as a bridge candidate, while some of his rivals specifically target evangelicals and tea-party conservatives and others focus on rallying the establishment.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst recently polled Republican primary voters and found they move fairly fluidly between the top four candidates—Messrs. Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio. However, the Florida senator served as a link between the outsiders and the establishment contenders, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“Rubio shares a lot of support with Trump, Carson and [former Hewlett-Packard Co.Chief Executive Carly] Fiorina and with establishment candidates, like Bush and Christie,” said Mia Costa, one of the researchers on that poll. “He’s well-positioned to pick up supporters from both camps.”