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He's not up for re-election in 2018, but here's why Marco Rubio is campaigning hard

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and an ally of Bannon's, praised Rubio's work on Capitol Hill one year into his second term.

"He gets no criticisms from me," Meadows said. "Actually, we're working very closely on the child tax credit that he's working with Ivanka (Trump). I think he's doing a great job on that. I think he has an idea that it needs to be higher than what it is."

In the policy sphere, Rubio has worked closely with Trump on Latin American issues, getting the president to embrace tighter regulations on Cuba and speak forcefully about the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

But in the political sphere, Rubio plans to begin supporting a swath of Republicans in 2018 who span the ideological and geographic spectrum. Moderate Republicans like Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Breitbart-approved figures like Ohio state treasurer and 2018 Senate candidate Josh Mandel are all on Rubio's list.

"He's an in-demand surrogate. He's a compelling surrogate for young people and conservatives of all stripes," said Jordan Russell, a spokesman for Rubio's political committee that doles out help to Republican candidates. "When his schedule and time allows, he's going to help good conservative candidates. His primary focus is to help people that helped him."

The list of early names that Rubio plans to support in 2018 has a common theme: Curbelo, Mandel, South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem (who is running for governor), Florida state Rep. Mike Miller (who is challenging Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat) and New York Rep. Elise Stefanik are all under 50 years old, and all of them supported Rubio during his 2016 campaign. It's the kind of broad, national base that could pay dividends should Rubio seek the White House in the future.

Rubio is set on supporting Senate incumbents and hopefuls who helped him out in 2016, but the list of early names indicates that the type of Republicans that Rubio is going to support are young people like himself who have shown a propensity to effectively shape-shift their political ideology, much like Rubio did when he campaigned for the state Legislature as a moderate in Miami years ago.

"Marco Rubio is the conduit we have to get to President Trump," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Miami Republican and Trump opponent who was once Rubio's boss when he worked as an intern in her office. "He's got the president's ear on Cuba and Venezuela, two issues which I'm passionate about. He's been wonderful about Puerto Rican aid."

Rubio is in an advantageous position compared to some of his Senate GOP colleagues. He isn't on the ballot for another five years, and Bannon's forces are prepared to wage war against every sitting Republican senator up for re-election in 2018 with the exception of Ted Cruz of Texas, who, like Rubio, is a 46-year-old big-state senator with lingering presidential aspirations of his own.

And Rubio has experience playing the outsider game in Washington. His 2010 Senate campaign was not backed by McConnell, instead drawing support from the tea party movement, which led the McConnell-backed candidate, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, to run as an independent.

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