Whether or not his bipartisan immigration reform effort fails, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has primed himself for crossover appeal. In the face of a Republican Party that has been labeled as full of old, white, rich men, the young, charismatic politician whose parents emigrated from Cuba already presented a refreshing alternative. But now he can add "deal-maker" and "maverick" to his resume – something that will further confound Democrats in a potential 2016 match-up, experts say.
"Democrats should be extremely concerned about Rubio's presidential aspirations," says Ron Bonjean, a Republican political consultant. "He's young, energetic and can cut into the coalition that elected President [Barack] Obama. He doesn't bring the out-of-touch, rich-old-white-guy baggage into his candidacy."
Rubio, long seen as a potential GOP presidential candidate, has spent serious political capital by crafting and attempting to sell to conservative media an immigration reform package that calls for ramped up border security, but also allows a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
"Basically it makes his quest for the nomination more difficult, but definitely makes him a much more attractive candidate," says Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. "Besides the security, the economics of it, the pathway to citizenship makes it clear that he understands the GOP is running out of white voters."
National Republican officials have acknowledged the uphill deficit they face with the ever-growing demographic of Hispanic voters and have vowed to stem the tide.
While Rubio has not been able to charm all - or even most - conservative skeptics of his immigration proposal, his commitment to 'myth-busting' is changing the conversation without alienating his base too much. Following an appearance on popular conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's show, Limbaugh praised Rubio as a "true conservative" even though he still wasn't on board with the immigration proposal.
Mike Leavitt, former Republican National Committee chief of staff and current GOP consultant says Rubio's thoughtful approach to taking on his own party on this issue will help him succeed during a primary.
"Clearly he is the complete opposite of what Democrats would like to paint Republicans as – he's young and he's intelligent," he says. "[Rubio's] willing to take his party on in a thoughtful way, he's well respected within the party and the conservative ranks and the more moderate parts of the party and he just doesn't fit the more standard mold that the Democrats like to try to paint Republicans as."