"No, no, c'mon, that's not going to happen," said Rubio on Thursday, chuckling as reporters hustled to keep up with his brisk walk. "I've got my hands full with the U.S. Senate primary against the sitting governor of my state...I'm flattered you would ask me a question."
With his side-swept hair and boyish grin, Rubio captivated the audience by touting his Conservative credentials as a keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington.
"People want leaders that will come here to Washington, D.C., and stand up to this big government agenda, not be co-opted by it," he said in his speech. "The Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many."
Although it's Florida Governor Charlie Crist that is his immediate rival, the 38-year-old Cuban American's national debut had many conference goers speculating that he might be the party's presidential nominee in 2012.
In a small meeting with bloggers, Rubio said he alone could not solve the GOP's problems, suggesting too that he did not plan to live his whole life as a politician.
"I want to communicate to a broader audience about what the message is," said the former state House Speaker. "I don't really think that electing me to the Senate is the issue…The issue is: can we send enough people into government, to Washington DC, to serve for a period of time as a voice on behalf of those things that have made us great and exceptional? And then, hopefully we'll go home and raise our families under the laws we helped pass and a new group will get to do that."
"Marco Rubio will be the Senator for Florida," a confident Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told CBS News later in the afternoon. "He's going to win the primary, he's clearly going to win that general election, I think he will very quickly be a national leader of this American awakening."
In addition to an endorsement, DeMint's PAC, The Senate Conservative Fund, gave a maximum $10,000 to Rubio's campaign.
"I think Marco will be a good presidential candidate someday," said DeMint.
The latest Quinnipiac Poll puts Rubio three percentage points ahead of Crist, which is with the poll's margin of error. Still, the Rubio campaign considers itself the underdog in the race. The staff has just two campaign offices in Florida and less than ten full time staffers on the payroll, with about $2 million cash on hand compared to Crist's $7.5 million coffers.
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