First-term Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has always had the potential to bridge the fractured Republican Party: He is conservative enough, his backers say, to win over the party’s disgruntled base, yet politically savvy enough to connect with establishment donors and business interests.
Yet he has struggled to win a state in the early going and consolidate the “establishment” vote of the GOP.
In particular, Rubio has struggled to put away concerns over his past support for a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, a position anathema to much of the Republican base.
But he’s earned the backing of many of the GOP’s leading donors and fundraisers, who envision the 44-year-old Hispanic politician from a large swing state as a perfect-on-paper contrast to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Rubio’s strong political positioning was not self-evident when he announced his bid in April. Early national surveys showed him with only middle-of-the-pack polling, and his path to winning top endorsements from traditional party leaders seemed blocked by a fellow Floridian, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has since dropped out.
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MELBOURNE, FL - MARCH 14: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets supporters while campaigning at That Little Restaurant March 14, 2016 in Melbourne, Florida. Florida holds its presidential primary tomorrow. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (left) confers with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (right) as U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee October 31, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens during a news conference on a comprehensive immigration reform framework January 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. A group of bipartisan senate members have reached to a deal of outlines to reform the nation immigration laws that will provide a pathway for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country to citizenship. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) share a moment during a news conference on a comprehensive immigration reform framework Monday.
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OKATIE, SC - FEBRUARY 11: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks a campaign town hall meeting at the Sun City Hilton Head's Magnolia Hall February 11, 2016 in Okatie, South Carolina. Earlier in the week Rubio placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary, behind fellow GOP candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Donald Trump, who won with 35 percent of the vote. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 14: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participate in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center on January 14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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