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Sen. Marco Rubio sailed into office on the tea-party wave, wagging his finger at the Obama administration’s fiscal mischief. But in the Senate, foreign policy has become his passion.

Rubio, in an interview with National Review Online, says that the late senator Jesse Helms, the firebrand conservative from North Carolina, is his model.

“Politicians are not heroes,” Rubio says. “But if you look at Jesse Helms, he had a tremendous amount of influence in this place.”

Rubio respects how Helms fought hard as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, punching back at the princes of liberalism. Over five terms, he notes, Helms became a leading hawk.

Rubio is already becoming one. But you would not know it from his cramped transitional office in the bowels of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The walls are blank, the low-slung coffee table sparse. One lonely picture is perched near a ratty sofa: an autographed photo of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, slipped into a cheap frame.

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