WASHINGTON -- His admirers often describe Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) as the Republicans' Barack Obama: a young senator with a few years of service, an inspiring life story, and an itch for higher office.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sees in Rubio echoes of a different Democrat.
“He reminds me of John Edwards,” Reid said, referring to the former senator from North Carolina who flamed out in his run for president. “Not because any of the [personal] stuff."
"John Edwards, when he came to the Senate, man, he was good," Reid said. "He had been called by either [Al] Gore or his people that he was going to be the nominee, or at least that's what he thought, OK? And he called me and told me that. When Gore chose [Joseph] Lieberman, [Edwards] was so fixed on becoming a national figure that his Senate service was basically over. That’s what I see in Marco Rubio.”
In an interview in his office on Thursday, Reid talked at length about a 2016 Republican primary that is finally being shaped by the current and former lawmakers in the field. He had actual kind words to say about his Senate colleague Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a man who, not even two years ago, he called “a laughing stock to everybody but him.”
“People want me to dislike Ted Cruz,” Reid said this time around. “I can't dislike him. I know some people do. I know President Bush said he didn't like him. I kind of like the guy. I don't like what he's done in the Senate but I've never ever underestimated this man.”
When the topic turned to Jeb Bush, the candidate who Democrats once thought was the surest bet to emerge from a crowded Republican field, Reid seemed almost sympathetic over his plight. He said he had been flipping channels on Wednesday night, alternating between the second game of the World Series and the Republican presidential debate.
I don't know Jeb Bush but boy, he needs a shot of adrenaline or something. I mean, gee whiz. Harry Reid on Jeb Bush
Told that Rubio had cleaned Bush’s clock in an exchange over Rubio’s poor Senate attendance record, Reid replied, briskly: “I don't think you've got much of a clock to clean there … having Marco Rubio clean Jeb Bush's clock would be like having Greg Maddux pitch to a bunch of high school kids.”
“I don't know much about him,” Reid said of Jeb. “I worked with his dad and with his brother. His dad was not a great speaker. He just was such a nice man -- everybody really cared a lot about his father. George Bush the second was a pretty good debater. He was OK, he had a lot of energy in his debates. I don't know Jeb Bush but boy, he needs a shot of adrenaline or something. I mean, gee whiz.”
Of all the candidates whom Reid addressed, though, none seemed to pique his interest and ire quite like Rubio. The Florida Republican is the ascendant candidate in the race, having turned in several strong debate performances and maintained a steady, albeit small, amount of support in the polls. But he has continued to be dogged by his spotty attendance record.
Reid said Thursday that Rubio should resign from the Senate if he felt his duties there were insignificant compared to a presidential campaign.
“If he thinks his job is such a nothing job, let Florida send somebody here that works with [Sen.] Bill Nelson, who is a substantive senator,” he said. “Bill Nelson finds a lot to do to help Florida. So I don't accept that.”
Reid dismissed Rubio's contention that his absenteeism was no worse than that of past senators who have run for president.
“I've never heard John McCain say he didn't like the job. How could he compare himself to John McCain? John McCain is one of the certified American heroes of our time," Reid said. "John Kerry, same damn thing. Barack Obama, African-American running for president -- if he thinks he can compare himself to those three, more power to him, cause he can't walk in their shoes. Make sure you got me there. To think he could compare himself to those three men is ludicrous.”
Rubio’s campaign and Senate office did not immediately return requests for comment.