Mindful that "amnesty" remains a dirty word in the GOP and that many still flinch at immigration changes approved under President Ronald Reagan, Rubio courted conservative talk-radio hosts and news outlets to head off criticism. Early on, he won positive reviews from powerful conservative media personalities.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity offered praise for his approach. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called Rubio's ideas "admirable and noteworthy," a tag line that could turn into a handy defense in a Republican primary.
Rubio has had detractors, too.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Rubio's plan would allow illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S., essentially jumping ahead of those who have waited in their own countries to immigrate to the U.S. legally. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, called Rubio "naive."
Indeed, the focus on immigration could be a boon or a bust for Rubio. If he rallies Republicans behind a plan that offers some resolution, he could be connected to a big legislative victory. But if the plan draws the wrath of Republican activists, it could hinder his ability to seek the big prize in 2016.
"I really believe that if I do the best job I can in the Senate," Rubio told BuzzFeed, "then in a couple of years I'll be in a position to make a decision about whether I want to run for re-election, leave politics and give someone else a shot or run for some other position."
Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed to this report from Miami.
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