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U.S. Senator Marco Rubio giving up Senate seat to seek White House

Rubio, trying to become America’s first Latino president, kicks off 2016 campaign in Miami

florida mugMIAMI (CFP) — Charging that “our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has kicked off his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

During an announcement rally in Miami April 13, the senator — at 43 one of the youngest potential candidates in the White House chase — framed the race as “a generational choice about what kind of country we will be.”

“While our people and economy are pushing the boundaries of the 21st century, too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century,” he said.

“They are busy looking backward, so they do not see how jobs and prosperity today depend on our ability to compete in a global economy. So our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999.”

Rubio also took a direct swipe at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — 24 years his senior — who announced Sunday that she would seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over, and we are never going back.”

Rubio, the son of refugees from Cuba’s communist dictatorship, began his campaign symbolically at Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, where Cuban immigrants to the United States were processed after arriving in the 1960s.

“Their story is part of the larger story of the American miracle — how, united by a common faith in their God given right to go as far as their talent and work would take them, a collection of immigrants and exiles, former slaves and refugees, became one people,” he said.

“For almost all of human history, power and wealth belonged only to a select few … But America is different. Here, we are the children and grandchildren of people who refused to accept this.”

If he wins the presidency, Rubio would be the first Latino, and the first Cuban-American, to be elected president. Another Cuban-American, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is also seeking the GOP nomination.

But in deciding to seek the presidency, Rubio will give up what was considered a relatively safe Senate seat, triggering a wide-open race in the Sunshine State in 2016 that will present a possible pickup opportunity for Democrats.

Rubio opted not to try to simultaneously seek the presidency and re-election to the Senate, as one of his GOP presidential rivals, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, is doing in Kentucky.

The Florida senator will also likely be battling a fellow Floridian and political mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is also expected to make a 2016 White House bid.

Rubio the former speaker of the Florida House, rode a wave of conservative and Tea Party support in 2010 to win a Senate seat, besting Florida’s sitting governor at the time, Charlie Crist. He quickly rose to national prominence and was mentioned as a vice presidential pick in 2012.

Rubio has also garnered headlines for his work on immigration reform, which has drawn the ire of the GOP’s small, but noisy, nativist wing. Opponents of immigration reform have also criticized Bush for much the same reason.

Rubio, Cruz, Paul and Bush are among nine Southerners — eight Republicans and one Democrat — considering a White House bid in 2016.

Among the other potential Southern GOP candidates are former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas; U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has already launched an exploratory committee for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination — a race that’s expected to be dominated by former Secretary of State Clinton, a former first lady of Arkansas who went on to be elected to the Senate from New York.

Watch Rubio’s announcement speech:

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