mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio speaks about Cuba during a Cuban Independence Day Celebration at the InterContinental Hotel May 23, 2008, in Miami Joe Raedle—Getty Images

How a Hug Jump-Started Marco Rubio's Career

Apr 13, 2015

Monday promises to be a big day for Marco Rubio: the Florida Senator has said that he'll announce whether he plans to run in the next election, and for what.

It was only a little more than five years ago that Rubio took the big risk that brought him to the precipice of a potential presidential candidacy. He had spent nearly a decade in the Florida state legislature but, in mid-2009, was not in office. In mid 2009, Florida's governor Charlie Crist seemed to have the race locked up to become Florida's next Senator. Then, after Barack Obama won the White House, Crist appeared at an event with the new President and exchanged a hug.

newsletter
The Brief NewsletterSign up to receive the top stories you need to know right now. View Sample

Rubio, as TIME's David von Drehle recounted in a 2010 cover story about the changing Republican party, saw his chance:

Another Florida Republican had a different idea. His name was Marco Rubio. He was the baby-faced former speaker of the Florida legislature. Well-wired Floridians knew that Rubio was thinking about challenging Crist for a seat in the U.S. Senate, and they also knew that this was quixotic because Crist had at least a 30-point lead in the polls, plus friends and money and endorsements from powerful Republicans around the country.

But Rubio saw an opportunity in that hug. If one possible Republican strategy was to embrace the Democratic spending agenda, surely there was a case to be made for opposing it. Rubio decided to "stand up to this Big Government agenda, not be co-opted by it," and three months after The Hug, tossed his hat into the ring. The date was May 5, 2009.

Looking back, that was the day the 2010 election truly began--not just the campaign for a Senate seat from Florida but the broad national campaign for control of Congress and the direction of the country. Rubio's decision to wage a philosophical battle for the soul of the Florida GOP was a catalyst for the surprising and outrageous events that followed. He became a darling of the nascent Tea Party movement and a point man in the movement's purge of the GOP establishment. Rubio led the way for a dust-kicking herd of dark-horse candidates--some thoroughbreds, some nags. And most of all, Rubio symbolized the fact that this year's midterms have become a referendum on such fundamental issues as the role of government and the size of the public debt.

Crist eventually dropped out of the Republican field to run as an Independent, but it was too late. Rubio won the Senate seat and was catapulted to the top rung of the Republican Party.

Read the 2010 cover story, here in the TIME archives: Party Crashers

See the 2016 Candidates Looking Very Presidential

Values Voters Summit
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by stars and stripes at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. on September 26, 2014.Mark Peterson—Redux
Values Voters Summit
USA - Hillary Clinton speaks at Iowa Senator Tom Harken'a annual Steak Fry
Jeb Bush
Sen. Bernie Sanders Launches Presidential Bid In Vermont
Political Theatre
Former Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina listens to her introduction from the side of the stage at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015.
Georgia Senate Candidate David Perdue Campaigns With Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rick Perry
Bobby Jindal
Martin O'Malley
Marco Rubio
Ben Carson
Barack Obama, Jim Webb
John Kasich, Election
Conservative Political Action Conference
Scott Walker
Mike Huckabee
Former Rhode Island Governor Chafee poses for a selfie with a student after announcing he will seek the Democratic nomination to be U.S. president during an address to the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs in Arlington
FILE: Lindsey Graham To Run For President
Former New York governor George Pataki listens to a question at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire, in this April 17, 2015 file photo. Pataki on May 28, 2015 entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, joining a crowded field of candidates vying to retake the White House for their party. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by stars and stripes at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. on September 26, 20
... VIEW MORE

Mark Peterson—Redux
1 of 20

Read next: Republican Candidates Didn’t Just Talk Guns at NRA Event

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.