Monday February 11, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Marco Rubio is taking center stage as Republicans search for a new leader.

Since President Barack Obama won a second term, the Florida senator has made calculated, concrete steps to emerge as a next-generation leader of a rudderless party, put a 21st-century stamp on the conservative movement and potentially position himself for a future presidential run.

The bilingual Cuban-American lawmaker has become Republicans’ point person on immigration reform and pitches economic solutions at middle-class workers. He is an evangelist for a modern, inclusive party that welcomes more Hispanics and minorities but says Republicans must stay true to their principles.

Rubio will give the Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, a rebuttal that Rubio advisers say will offer economic prescriptions for a sluggish economy and counter what they call Obama’s government-centered economic approach.

The former Florida House speaker has been on a Republican rocket ship since 2010, when he knocked off Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in a Senate race that showed the tea party’s clout.