The son of a Cuban immigrant bartender and maid, Marco Rubio stands on the biggest stage of his life Thursday when he introduces himself -- and the Republican presidential nominee -- to the nation.
It's a dream fulfilled. And deferred.
The freshmen Florida senator from West Miami said he's grateful for the high-profile spot. But Rubio not-so-secretly wanted more: the vice-presidential slot on Mitt Romney's ticket or the keynote address at the Republican National Convention.
Rubio, whose sights are ultimately on the White House, got the next best thing: the introduction of Romney on a night when nearly everyone who wants to vote for president is watching.
"It's a tremendous honor to be able to give this speech in my home state in front of a lot of family and friends who have been involved with me on a personal level," Rubio said Wednesday.
"I hope for my mom, who's watching from home, and my dad, wherever he's watching from, it will be affirmation that their lives mattered," said Rubio. His father passed away in 2010.
What makes this speech different from all others?
"I don't know, 39 million people probably," Rubio said with a smile.
For those who have watched the 41-year-old Miami native ascend the heights of political stardom, Thursday night's speech won't have much new in it.
But this isn't for insiders. It's for a national crowd that knows relatively little about Rubio, the only Hispanic Republican in the U.S. Senate.
The speech will be only 15 minutes long -- half as long as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's keynote on Tuesday night that, to many at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, fell flat compared to the address Romney's wife, Ann, gave right before him.
In contrast to Christie's speech, Rubio's is expected to dwell less on himself and more on Romney. Like vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Rubio's widely viewed as being a more effective messenger about Romney's record than Romney.
"Mitt Romney knows how prosperity is created. It's created when people take their own money and invest it in a business. They employ more people. Those people take their money and spend it in the economy, creating jobs for others," Rubio said Wednesday.
"Barack Obama believes prosperity's created when the government spends money or creates a new program," Rubio said. "That's what this is about."
It's also about Rubio, a lawyer who first won office at the age of 26. Cultivating powerful political allies along the way, Rubio served on the West Miami city commission and then in the Florida Legislature, which he left in 2009 after serving as House speaker for two years.
In 2010, Rubio did what seemed like the impossible: He beat Gov. Charlie Crist to capture an open U.S. Senate seat. He also chased Crist out of the Republican Party. Crist then ran as an independent and now plans to become a registered Democrat and speaker at next week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Rubio laughed when he was asked about Crist on Wednesday: "He's running out of parties."
Dario Moreno, a Florida International University political science professor who has known Rubio since 1996, said this moment at the convention is an unparalleled opportunity in Rubio's career.
"This is the national stage," Moreno said. "He would have preferred to be in the keynote spot, but in a way this is better, a higher-profile position. Along with Christie and the other speakers in the primetime spots, you're looking at the future 2016 candidates for president. And Marco is one of them."
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