A presidential bid isn't the definite next move for the senator, who's also up for reelection in 2016 and has said he'll only run for one office — but for many of his donors and supporters attending his two-day summit in Miami, it's the obvious one. Attendees were given the impression by Rubio and his aides that while the senator hasn't made a decision yet, he has prepared the funding and staffing infrastructure to go all in.
And speaking to some audience members who were listening, the pitch worked.
"I'm very taken with him," said Anthony Gioia, an ambassador under George W. Bush and a major GOP fundraiser who supported Mitt Romney in 2012.
Convincing his financial backers that he has the campaign organization to launch a 2016 bid at a moment's notice is important as Rubio's would-be primary challengers have been more public and direct about their intentions for weeks now. While the freshman Florida senator gathered donors and staff at the posh Delano hotel, at least 10 Republican hopefuls were addressing potential Iowa caucus-goers and former governors Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney criss-crossed the country meeting with voters and Republican officials.
Back in Miami, Gioia said that while he hasn't decided who to support in the GOP primary, he was impressed by Rubio's command of the foreign policy challenges facing the nation and, in particular, the senator's charisma and compelling personal story.
"He's extremely articulate," Gioia said. "Someone who's going to be president has to be able to lead. And you have to be articulate to be able to lead."
Gioia was one of nearly 300 donors and supporters gathered at the hotel on Friday night and Saturday morning for the senator's annual "Team Rubio" meeting. Attendees included Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union and a supporter of both Rubio and Jeb Bush; Dirk Van Dongen, chair of Rubio's D.C. steering committee; Matt Keelen, a major Rubio donor, and Geoff Verhoff, a D.C. lobbyist and a member of Rubio's D.C. steering committee.
Rubio spent nearly three hours Friday night chatting individually with attendees, telling jokes and stories with them on the candlelit patio after guests enjoyed a buffet dinner and open bar.
Over a breakfast buffet Saturday morning, Rubio told the group about his thinking as he contemplates a presidential run. He's huddling with a few dozen of his top fundraisers and aides over lunch to strategize for his future, and has a more casual dinner planned Saturday night with a small circle to continue the conversation.
According to multiple attendees at the breakfast briefing, Rubio said he'd make the decision sooner rather than later, as he wants to give Republicans in the state enough time to front a strong candidate to defend his seat if he does decide to go for the White House.
Terry Sullivan, Rubio's former chief of staff who now runs his PAC, also gave a powerpoint presentation to the group outlining the senator's midterm efforts and successes, introducing the attendees to the new Republicans their money helped elect in 2014.
Aides caution that Rubio hasn't made up his mind yet, and that these preparations will be just as useful for a Senate campaign if he decides to run for reelection.
Florida Republicans are expecting to face a fierce battle with Democrats to hold onto the seat regardless of who they run, because it's both a top pickup opportunity for Democrats hoping to take back the Senate, and a key swing state in the electoral college calculus.
Cardenas predicted the Senate fight alone could top $100 million.
"Florida's going to be the number one state in a presidential election and in the U.S. Senate election, and whether you're running for reelection in the Senate in a race that could cost 100 million, or you're running for president, you need an incredible effort just for the reelection," he said. "So if you don't start working on that now, you're not going to be able to amass the resources you need."
Rubio's well on track to amass those resources. The senator had a record January fundraising haul, beating all of his goals, according to an aide. And he's on track to surpass his February goals as well, with fundraising trips to Chicago and Texas planned for next month.
He recently brought on Anna Rogers
, the top fundraiser for major GOP spending group American Crossroads, as his finance director, though his current finance director, Dorinda Moss, will still be active in the team's fundraising efforts.
Still, many in the party remain skeptical of a first-term senator who's still haunted, in some conservative circles, by his role in negotiating the failed Senate immigration reform bill in 2013. That which both lost him support within the conservative wing in the party and raised questions about his ability to effectively govern.
He was one of a handful of potential 2016 contenders who skipped out on a conservative gathering hosted by Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King this weekend — a snub that did not go unnoticed by King, who told the crowd he believed the country's next president was one of the speakers at the confab.
But Rubio's own team doesn't believe immigration will be an issue for him in the race, if he runs. They note the senator's got strong credentials on nearly every other key conservative issue, including gun control and abortion, and see the immigration snafu as a mulligan of sorts that conservatives could forgive.
And his supporters believe he's got the charisma and compelling personal story that many other potential contenders lack.
Gioia, who's hosted fundraising dinners at his home that have netted candidates upwards of a million dollars, said he has yet to decide which Republican to support. But between Rubio and Bush, the younger senator may have won his heart.
"I'm certainly leaning very heavily towards Marco, or possibly Jeb — but I really like Marco. He's a really talented guy," Gioia said.
"He's got a good inner self too. He's comfortable in his own skin," he added.