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Marco Rubio was the last in the current crop of freshman senators to deliver his maiden speech. When he finally took the floor, the Republican from South Florida sounded a very different note than the 12 GOP freshmen who spoke before him.

Where others focused exclusively on the domestic economy — the size of the U.S. debt, the need for a balanced-budget amendment, their opposition to raising taxes — Rubio chose a global theme, offering his vision for America’s role in the world in the 21st century.

This week, Rubio will expand on that theme with a speech at the Jesse Helms Center in North Carolina that is intended to be a full-throated defense of American engagement overseas, even at a time of belt tightening at home. Rubio says he believes its important to account to people why it is “essential” for the United States to “spend money and risk lives on foreign policy.”

In particular, Rubio says he will reinforce the importance of promoting democracy. “We don’t always agree with other democracies but very rarely do we find ourselves fighting them,” he says

This kind of rhetoric on U.S. policy abroad certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of a politician who rode to office in 2010 on the backs of tea party activists — upsetting a popular governor along the way — and who embodies in many ways the new generation of fiscal conservatives in Congress.

But Rubio seems intent on carving out a path distinct from many others in the Class of 2010. Through his high-profile speeches, as well as his legislative collaborations with senior senators and daily work on the Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence panels, he is emerging as a fresh GOP voice on foreign policy. In doing so, he is contradicting the notion that the tea party is synonymous with international isolationism. And he is challenging the narrative that his party, as a whole, is headed in that same direction.

At first glance, Rubio did not appear to be the most likely freshman Republican to take a leading role on foreign policy. Entering the 112th Congress, there were several newly elected senators with far more experience in international affairs than the 40-year-old lawyer and former state legislator.

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