Lack of national experience could be a factor in the GOP presidential primary for Marco Rubio, particularly in light of seven years of President Barack Obama, a first-term senator when he began his campaign for the White House.
So says the POLITICO Caucus, a weekly bipartisan analysis by a panel of political operatives and activists in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The comparison between Florida’s junior U.S. senator and Obama doesn’t end there: Both men have superior speaking skills and a captivating personal narrative. Each has a similar experience; moving from the state House to the U.S. Senate, and mounting a presidential campaign before completing his first term.
National experience might develop as an issue in 2016: A poll found 61 percent of Republicans, as well as 63 percent of Democrats, saying experience – or the lack of it – could be a problem. In Iowa, the topic is slightly more significant: 63 percent of Iowa Republican voters surveyed say it is an issue, as does 57 percent of New Hampshire Republicans.
“He’ll have to offer more than one really great speech because voters are looking for more than inspiration,” one anonymous Iowa Republican told pollsters. “We’ve had plenty of that with Obama. Voters are looking for accomplishment and experience as well.”
POLITICO reports another unidentified New Hampshire Republican said, “Every election selects the candidate that corrects the perceived deficiencies of the current occupant of the White House. After seven years of an eloquent, one-term senator, the GOP is going to look for something different.”
“Without a doubt, when push comes to shove later this year, Rubio will be faced with being too young without enough experience,” said another.
The experience critique can also be leveled against fellow candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, but insiders say Rubio is the bigger threat to presumptive frontrunners Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. In the 2008 election cycle, Republicans — and Clinton — regularly pointed out the “experience” argument against Obama.
That led a New Hampshire GOP voter to wonder why an entirely “valid critique” of Obama does not apply in these cases.
“We can’t out-Obama Obama,” another Iowa Republican said, according to the POLITICO Caucus. “There is only one shot for a flash-in-the-pan candidate like that. And, by the way, it hasn’t turned out so well.”
Experience may be an obstacle, insiders said, but not insurmountable. Rubio is a former Florida House speaker with foreign policy experience through his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Rubio’s relative lack of federal experience is fair game for his rivals, but he had significantly more state legislative experience than Obama,” one Iowa voter said. “The only way the experience question hurts him is if he comes across as inexperienced. So far, that hasn’t been an issue.”
On the other hand, a fresh face, even without a wealth of experience, could be an asset for many primary voters.
Although Bush and Clinton made visits to early primary states this week, much of the attention was on the “dynasty” talk inherent in a Bush-Clinton race. But for POLITICO Caucus insiders, the challenge is bigger for Bush than Clinton: That was the overwhelming view of Republicans (97 percent) and Democrats (92 percent).
“Passing a presidency from father to son, like an inheritance is not the same as a wife building her own career and running based on her own accomplishments,” a Democratic insider from New Hampshire said. “It’s actually insulting to compare the two scenarios. Hillary has faced more challenges from being married to Bill Clinton and from being a wife.
“Lots of sexism at play. On the other hand, the Bushes have a tradition of entitlement in their family.”
Gender differences aside, respondents also expressed concern over having three presidents from the same family.
According to one New Hampshire Republican, if it came down to families of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Clinton would win.
“It’s on Jeb’s team to not allow that to happen,” the insider added. “President Bush 43’s numbers have bounced back since he left office in 2009, but they’re still not at President Clinton’s level.”
But the issue is a challenge for both, even though it may hurt Bush a little more.
“It’s very bad for both of them,” one Democrat said. “Many people really want another choice. But in Bush’s case, there really are alternatives.”
More insights from the POLITICO Caucus, as well as a list of participants, is available here.