Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising political star tapped by Republicans struggling to broaden their appeal and reach Latino voters, delivered a bilingual response to President Obama's State of the Union address in which he argued strongly for conservative tenets such as a balanced budget and smaller government.
The 41-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, considered by many the top contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, said lower taxes and entitlement spending would help others achieve the success he has enjoyed in America.
Rubio condemned President Obama's push for increased taxes and more spending, likening his approach to the government-dominated economies of the countries from which many of America's immigrants fled.
"I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors," said Rubio, referring to his home in the Cuban-American enclave of West Miami.
In a high-pressure moment, Rubio's delivery was forceful, if somewhat rushed through much of the speech. At one point, he leaned off-camera to grab a bottle of water and took a quick swig. Several times he appeared to brush perspiration off his face. "Strong material but the trivial water bit will get endless attention," tweeted Republican strategist Mike Murphy.
Still, his performance received praise from fellow lawmakers and political pundits, signaling that he might dodge the fate of a previous responder to a State of the Union speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In 2009, Jindal's speech was criticized as poorly written and awkwardly delivered, and it stalled his political rise.
Rubio has taken positions that would have seemed bold for a Republican before last year's election defeat forced partywide soul searching. He is co-sponsor of the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform plan, which calls for a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants. And he promised again Tuesday to work for a meaningful immigration solution.
Much of the speech focused on the economy. Rubio said Obama's plan for a tax increase could never raise the kind of revenue needed to reduce the nation's staggering deficit.
"That's why I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy," Rubio said.
Some Republicans see Rubio as the party's best hope to attract new voters, particularly the growing base of Hispanics who in recent elections have been flocking to the Democratic Party.
"On the immigration issue, he is more important than the rest of us combined," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told The Washington Examiner.
Senate lawmakers praised GOP leaders for choosing Rubio to deliver the response, saying the party needs to combat the perception that it lacks diversity.
"I think it's good for America to see a different image than many Americans have of the Republican Party," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.