William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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MARCO RISING – AT 10:24 A.M.  ET:  Despite all the gloom in the GOP, some of its young stars are clearly in the ascendant.  They refuse to remain silent.  Bobby Jindal is speaking out regularly.  The great Kelly Ayotte, senator from New Hampshire, is taking her place as an important spokeswoman on foreign policy.  Republican governors are refusing to bow endlessly to the education industry.  Scott Walker is revolutionizing Wisconsin.

And then there's Marco Rubio, who will deliver the response to President Obama's State-of-the-Union message on Tuesday.  He is an extraordinarily attractive future candidate, with polls already showing that he can cut into the Democratic advantage with Hispanic voters.  From The Wall Street Journal:

Marco Rubio is taking center stage as Republicans search for a new leader.

In the nearly 100 days since President Barack Obama won a second term, the Florida senator has made calculated, concrete steps to emerge as a next-generation leader of a rudderless party, put a 21st-century stamp on the conservative movement and potentially position himself for a future presidential run.

The bilingual Cuban-American lawmaker has become Republicans' point person on immigration reform and pitches economic solutions at middle-class workers. He is an evangelist for a modern, inclusive party that welcomes more Hispanics and minorities but says Republicans must stay true to their principles.

"In a way, he's trying to save us from ourselves," says Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who gave Rubio his first job in politics -- as a South Florida field staffer during Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. "He gives us comfort against the naysayers who say we need to change our basic beliefs to attract a wider audience."

Rubio will give the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, a rebuttal that Rubio advisers say will offer economic prescriptions for a sluggish economy and counter what they call Obama's government-centered economic approach.

The speech comes as demand for the 41-year-old son of immigrants has soared and the party has tried to recover from significant electoral losses and map out a path ahead.

Call it the "it" factor. Time magazine splashed Rubio on its cover this week, anointing him "The Republican Savior." Rubio, a Catholic, responded on Twitter: "There is only one savior, and it is not me. (hash)Jesus". He shrugged off the label during an interview with The Associated Press: "I didn't write the cover. I wouldn't have said it if I wrote it."

"There are no saviors in politics," he said.

COMMENT:  One thing about Rubio:  Unlike Romney, he knows exactly what to say and how to say it.  He is comfortable with people at all levels.  He's articulate, smart, and sticks to his principles without appearing doctrinaire.

The Republican bench for 2016 is very deep.  The Democratic bench is not, but sitting first on that bench is Hillary Clinton.  For whatever strange reason, she is hugely popular, despite the lack of notable successes, and the best Republican candidate will have a hard time defeating her.  If she runs and is nominated, the press will do for her what it did for Obama.  Even Marco Rubio will have a tough time, but he, like other first-class Republicans, can do it.

February 10, 2013