He’s 43 years old and has been in the United States Senate representing the state of Florida since 2011. He’s also been making noises for about a year or two that he might have his sights sets on the White House.
On Monday at an event at the Freedom Tower in Miami, Sen. Marco Rubio announced he is running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Rubio had earlier told donors about his plans to run, saying he feels “uniquely qualified” for the role and would move politics beyond the past. He becomes the third Republican (after Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky) to declare he’s interested in President Barack Obama’s job.
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Rubio has been a rising star in the GOP since his election to the Senate, but early polls have him drawing high single-digit support, trailing other Republican contenders such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as well as Cruz, Paul, Dr. Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Here are some little-known facts about Rubio, who’s been politically active longer than most people think:
1. He was born in Miami, Florida, in 1971, the son of Cuban immigrants.
2. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida in 1993.
3. He earned his law degree from the University of Miami in 1996. (One of his classmates there was GOP National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.)
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4. To finance his education he wound up with student loans of more than $100,000, which he paid off in 2012.
5. Rubio’s political career began when he was elected to the West Miami City Commission in 1998. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives the year after that.
6. In 2009, he won a seat the U.S. Senate after defeating former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican nomination and then beating Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meeks in the general election.
7. He’s married with four children – two boys and two girls. His wife, Jeanette, is a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and former bank teller.
8. His parents came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1956. His father worked as a bartender, his mother a maid, cashier and retail clerk. They became citizens in 1975.
9. As a kid Marco Rubio dreamed of playing football in the NFL. He played for one year in college.
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10. He was born Roman Catholic but was also baptized as a Mormon. His family moved to Las Vegas when he was eight years old and stayed until he was 11. He also has attended a Protestant church called Christ Fellowship. In the mid-1980s he developed a renewed interest in Catholicism and left Mormonism behind. He was confirmed and married in the Catholic Church.
11. He did not like disco in the ‘70s – and has called that decade a troubling time. “Jimmy Carter was president,” he said. “Most troubling of all, we had to overcome disco and bell bottoms and the Bee Gees.”
12. He ruffled the feathers of many of his Tea Party supporters in 2013 when he got behind a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have created a conditional path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in this country. The bill died in the House. Amid the backlash to the legislation, Rubio backed away from a comprehensive approach to reform, saying he had learned that U.S. borders must be secured against illegal immigration before other reforms are put in place.
13. A fiscal conservative, Rubio lobbied for property tax reforms and for a sales tax increase during his campaign for the Senate in 2008-2009. His collection of ideas, “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future,” yielded more than 50 new laws in his home state.
14. He believes Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional and that all human life is sacred and “worthy of protection at every stage of its development.”
15. During his wedding he sang two songs by Frank Sinatra: “New York, New York,” and “My Way.”
16. When President Obama was elected to the White House in November 2008, Rubio was moved to tears. As he wrote in his book American Son: “I was so proud to be an American, and so moved by the powerful symbolism of the moment, I couldn’t stop myself from tearing up … [Some people] thought they were tears of regret for the election of a Democratic president. But they weren’t. There would be plenty of time to oppose the new president’s misguided policies. That night was a night to be proud of our country.”
17. When he gave the GOP response to the State of the Union address in 2013 – and called unwanted attention to himself for awkwardly pausing to take a sip of water while still on camera – Rubio gave the response in both English and Spanish. It’s the drink of water many people remember best, though.
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