I doubt he would try to do it in 2012. He'd have to declare his candidacy almost contemporaneously with being sworn in, which would look really bad. So let's say 2016. I have no idea what the political situation will look like in 2016, but I do know that the Hispanic vote will be bigger and even more important than it is today. After the right went anti-immigrant in the mid-1990s, it went conciliatory in 2000 with immigrant-friendly George W. Bush. It's hardly impossible that history will repeat itself and the GOP will try to put a less-xenophobic foot forward in 2016. Putting Rubio out there will be smart from that perspective. But aside from the unanswered questions of race and religion (Rubio is Catholic), I think the basic premise of a Rubio candidacy would be his ability to win back the Hispanic vote. Considering that Hispanics went for Obama 2-to-1 after moving a bit toward Bush in 2004, it makes sense for someone like Rubio to run to try to win back some of the Hispanic vote, but after looking at a recent poll showing the typical Rubio lead, I was surprised to see he's only winning 38% of the Hispanic vote. Admittedly, this is a three-way race. He's winning more than the other two candidates. But this seems like roughly the percentage of Hispanics that voted for McCain, with a slight bump due to the dynamics of an off-year election that favors the GOP. That isn't really all that impressive for what is certain to be one of his biggest ostensible selling points.
Now, it's true that a decent amount of Hispanics are still undecided, and he might take a lot of those votes in the end. I don't know. But I think it's extremely relevant because it shows that Rubio is not pre-sold to the Hispanic community. He may or may not be successful with these voters in a national run, but he would not be able to merely assume their support. How does this differ from what any other Republican would have to do to win their support? Maybe he'd have an edge in persuasion with Hispanic voters, I don't know. The pertinent data do not seem to suggest it. Since the vast majority of Hispanics in Florida--home to one of the more conservative Hispanic populations in the country--are either voting for someone else or are still undecided with a week to go, it stands to reason that he'd have to work hard to earn their support in a prospective presidential bid. And it's entirely plausible to me that he'd have a hard time doing that. Rubio's support of the Arizona anti-immigration law seems to me like an extremely difficult hurdle to overcome. Maybe he needed to endorse it to get Republicans to back his nomination, but one has to suspect that it has much to do with the reason why his support among Hispanics trails his top-line polling numbers. It's true that he might well flip-flop to support comprehensive reform in a few years, but the whole episode suggests some cravenness at work that opponents could use against him. But it's not just immigration reform--other issues, like education and health care reform (strongly supported in the community) are extremely important to Hispanics. And then there's this enlightening reader-generated piece from TPM:
While the focus in CA has been on immigration and the Latino vote--and I agree it is a make or break issue in that community--it is not the only issue of importance to Latinos. PPIC has been doing an annual poll on environmental issues for at least 20 years. It has a massive sample size to regional and demographic sub groupings are statistically reliable--i.e., the margin of error is acceptable. I first noticed about sixteen years ago that the most environmentally concerned group in CA was not white, suburban women but was the Latino community---and by a significant margin! This pattern continues to this day. The Latino concern is about air and water pollution.This is part of an article about Whitman-Brown and Fiorina-Boxer, and California Hispanics specifically, so I can't say for sure if this trend holds everywhere in the country. But it makes sense that it would! It isn't controversial to assert that many Hispanics work out of doors and suffer from the effects of pollution and global warming disproportionately, not to mention their prevailing Catholic bent and that denomination's emphasis on environmental justice. The TPM piece argues persuasively that Whitman's flip-flopping on California's own cap-and-trade system has cost her support among Hispanics. But Rubio doesn't support cap-and-trade, either, and his stances on environmental issues are typically Republican. Frankly, I'm not seeing a lot of plusses here. What we see is someone who disagrees with most Hispanics on the issues most important to them, and has little to offer other than the symbolism of his ethnicity. Can someone tell me how this isn't a repeat of Palin 2008? Wasn't she supposed to bring home the women voters who wanted Clinton to win? I have no idea how all this will play out, and I could well eat my words, but I see some significant downsides to the Republicans with respect to a Rubio presidential run that should keep it from happening.