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Marco Rubio announces 2016 presidential campaign

  1. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced Monday that he will run for president in 2016, at an event at the Freedom Tower in Miami.
  2. Rubio said that America shouldn't go "back to the leaders and ideas of the past," and said we should head towards "a new American century."
  3. He's the third officially declared GOP candidate of note, after Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Several others, including Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, are expected to join the field, too.

Who is Marco Rubio?

Though Rubio, a 43-year-old first-term senator, is a rising star in GOP politics, he starts as an underdog for the 2016 nomination. He's polling in the single digits nationally and in early states. But it's a mistake to underestimate him — he's quickly distinguished himself as a charismatic standard-bearer for the GOP message, as well as a force for changing the party on policy.

Born in Miami to Cuban émigrés and educated at the University of Florida and University of Miami law school, Rubio first rose to prominence in the Florida state house after winning an open seat in a 2000 special election. As the Miami Herald's Gary Fineout wrote, "He was a 28-year-old attorney just four years out of law school. His sole possession was a Toyota Camry, he didn't own his own home and he was paying off student loans."

But his rise in the state house was meteoric, and in 2007 he became the chamber's first-ever Cuban-American speaker, and second-youngest speaker ever. And he didn't stop there. When a US Senate seat opened up for the 2010 election, Rubio took on his party's governor, Charlie Crist, to become the party's nominee. While Crist had the support of the GOP establishment, Rubio correctly perceived that the governor's moderate views made him vulnerable to a challenge from the right. Rubio's run was so successful that months before the primary, Crist quit the Republican Party entirely. (He later became a Democrat.)

Victorious, Rubio entered the US Senate in 2011, and quickly distinguished himself as one of the GOP's leading policy voices. He's pushed the party to adopt a bigger child tax credit, and to reform student loan repayment so that it's based on borrowers' incomes. On foreign affairs, abortion, and same-sex marriage, he's sounded more traditionally conservative themes.

But his most influential role so far has been as a supporter of the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill, which created a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. As a member of the key "Gang of Eight," Rubio's backing proved crucial in getting the bill through the Senate. That's as far as it went, though — the House never voted on it, and immigration reform now seems stalled.

Back in early 2013 — before he became heavily involved in immigration reform — Rubio frequently led polls of the GOP field. But conservative opposition to the bill led to a decline in Rubio's popularity on the right — and, according to RealClearPolitics, he hasn't outright led another national GOP primary poll since.

Accordingly, at an event this February, Rubio notably refused to reiterate his support for a path to citizenship, or even legalization. "You can't even have a conversation about that until people believe and know — not just believe, but it's proven to them — that future illegal immigration will be controlled and brought under control," he said.

Despite this decline in his electoral fortunes — and the impending candidacy of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, which many expected would prevent a Rubio bid — the senator has decided to try to make a run at the White House. And he's lined up a wealthy Super PAC backer, Miami car dealer Norman Braman, who's planning to spend up to $10 million on the campaign, according to the Washington Post.

Rubio is hoping that despite his underdog status to start off, the GOP will turn out to want a new face, not a new Bush — and a more charismatic candidate than Scott Walker. And his announcement, coming one day after Clinton's, will allow him to argue that his is a candidacy of the future, and not the past.