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How Rubio Has Kept McCain Out Of The Immigration Spotlight (So Far)

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MCCAIN RUBIO IMMIGRATION
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) speaks to reporters during a visit to Tripoli, Libya, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) looks on. (AP Photo/Abdel Magid al-Fergany) | AP
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My piece on Marco Rubio's successful interview with Rush Limbaugh is up on the site. I point out that Limbaugh is, like Mark Levin, giving himself a way to support Rubio's immigration push by making President Obama the villain.

One thing I didn't note is how important it is for reform proponents that John McCain hasn't become the bad guy (yet) to the Limbaugh and Levin crowd. McCain is, like Rubio, part of the group of eight senators behind the immigration proposal in the Senate, and he is a big political personality who is hated by many on the right.

Talk radio has long bashed McCain with gusto (just check out Limbaugh's impression of McCain for exhibit A). And the Arizona Republican senator has said things that would make it easy for the right to go after him in this current debate. He invoked Teddy Kennedy's name on Monday and has said on multiple occasions that the current plan is the same as what Kennedy and he backed in 2007, evoking memories of when the right tore that proposal to shreds.

McCain also put himself out front at the Senate press conference on Monday, opting to be the first Republican senator to speak after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led off with opening remarks. Rubio didn't speak until the 24-minute mark of the press conference.

McCain, a 76-year old war hero and former nominee of the party for president, has certainly earned the rank he pulled in making Rubio wait his turn. But it's hard to argue that McCain is the better representative for the GOP to either the right or left.

Nonetheless, Rubio has managed to make himself the face of the immigration push with an aggressive public relations effort. He went on Limbaugh's show Tuesday and was scheduled to go on Levin's Tuesday evening for the second time in a week. Also on Tuesday, he went on Sean Hannity's radio show, Mike Huckabee's radio show, and did Hugh Hewitt and Geraldo Rivera's radio shows on Monday evening, and talked to Hot Air, Newsmax and National Review earlier that day. He's gone on Laura Ingraham's radio show twice in the past two weeks.

He's done all the big Fox shows: Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, and Hannity.

He's also done outreach to mainstream establishment press and to Spanish-language media. He sat down with the Wall Street Journal editorial board, as well as to the New York Times editorial board. Not many Republicans in recent memory have done the latter.

And Rubio's office said he did interviews with all three major Spanish-language TV networks on Tuesday as well: CNN en Espanol, Univision and Telemundo. Rubio had done Univision and Telemundo once each previously in the past few weeks, as well as some Spanish-language radio stations, they said.

"Immigration is a complicated and emotional issue, and in past debates there's been a lot of confusion about conservatives' positions. With immigration set to be such a big issue this year, Sen. Rubio thought from the outset that it was important to clearly state his positions early and often," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant e-mailed me. "He wants there to be as little confusion as possible about what he supports and what he opposes, and the best way to do that is to clearly communicate across a diverse set of mediums."

McCain has not been anywhere near as visible in the press. Maybe he realizes the reality of who is better suited to be the salesman this time around. I'm waiting to hear back from a McCain spokesman on that.

To tie it together: it's not just about Rubio being the better salesman. It's that he's attractive to the right, not toxic like McCain. And keeping the right from rising up in revolt is important to all sides involved who want to see immigration reform legislation pass through the Congress.

There is risk for Rubio in tying himself so clearly to the immigration push, without a doubt. If the immigration deal falls apart, or the right decides en masse that they don't like it, it would likely hurt his political brand. But he's already got something of an exit strategy, which he articulated to Limbaugh when the radio host raised concerns about border security.

"To the point of them not wanting to do the security, look, all I can tell you is that that’s a big issue for me and that’s why I’m involved in this process," Rubio said. "I have no reason to believe it won’t happen, but if it doesn’t, then I’ll come back to you and say, 'Look, it didn’t. We tried. They put that in the principles, but then they drafted a bill that didn’t do it, and I couldn’t support it.'"

Update: 5:37 p.m. - McCain spokesman Brian Rogers e-mailed to note that McCain has been out there as well.

McCain did Fox and CNN on Monday, CBS "This Morning" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday morning, Michael Medved's radio show and local Arizona radio shows on Monday and Tuesday, and will on Wednesday morning appear with Sen. Chuck Schumer at the Politico Playbook Breakfast with Mike Allen.

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