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Marco Rubio Hones Foreign Policy Chops in Colombia

Apr 22, 2012 | News

Sen. Marco Rubio was not one of the leaders of Western Hemisphere nations meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, last weekend. But the Cuban-American lawmaker from Florida — who traveled to the sixth annual Summit of the Americas independently — was certainly treated like one. 

Befitting his status as a top vice presidential contender for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Rubio attracted a flurry of attention from the regional press and officials during his visit. 

In an interview upon his return from Colombia, Rubio said he wanted to make the trip to engage with Latin American partners and to send a signal that U.S. officials are, in fact, “prioritizing what’s happening in the region.” He said countries in the region have found that “pro-Americanism is not rewarded” by this White House — a situation he wants to change with more robust engagement and assistance to friendly regimes and pro-democracy activists. 

The trip to Cartagena for the summit, Rubio’s first to the region since joining the Senate in 2011, highlights not just his growing role as a player on U.S. foreign policy but also some of the political and demographic assets he would bring to Republicans’ 2012 ticket. It also, election watchers say, could help him raise his stock as a potential running mate, by heightening his profile among Latino voters in Western states, where he is still something of an unknown.

Among his engagements during the trip were bilateral meetings with the heads of state of Mexico, Guatemala and Chile as well as with members of Colombia’s Congress and with Cuban exiles. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee member conducted interviews and press availabilities — mainly in Spanish — with Telemundo, the United States’ Spanish language broadcaster; CNN en Español; the Miami Herald; Colombian print publications El Tiempo and Semana magazine; RTVC, CMI and W Radio of Colombia; international Spanish-language station NTN24; and TV Marti, the U.S. government’s broadcaster to Cuba.

El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest circulation daily, ran a Q-and-A with Rubio, in Spanish, the day the summit kicked off, highlighting his Cuban-American roots and the fact that he is married to a Colombian-American. And the reporter peppered him with questions about a potential 2012 vice presidential run.

Rubio repeatedly insisted he had “no other aspiration” than helping get Romney elected, though his denials have not exactly been Shermanesque.

Romney could certainly use the help among Hispanic voters. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted April 4-15, President Barack Obama leads Romney by 40 points among registered Hispanic voters. At 27 percent, Romney is not even matching the 31 percent of the Hispanic vote that Republican nominee John McCain won in 2008.

The Romney and Obama campaigns are now stepping up their outreach to Hispanic voters in key swing states such as Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

Experts on Latino voting behavior say Rubio’s appearances in Spanish language media outlets no doubt resonated with Latinos in the United States. But University of Washington professor Matt A. Barreto, who conducts polling on Latino voters as part of the firm Latino Decisions, emphasized that the freshman Senator is starting from a low bar.

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