WASHINGTON — Just two years after becoming a U.S. senator in 2011, Marco Rubio shot to the top of early polls for the Republican presidential nomination.
Over the next few months, he began a precipitous decline into the single digits, where he remained when he declared his bid to become the first Hispanic American president Monday at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.
What happened at that critical juncture? In 2013, the Florida senator teamed up with Democrats to write and pass a sweeping (but ultimately doomed) bill that included a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The fateful decision will loom large for the talented 43-year-old politician in the coming year — perhaps large enough to affect the outcome of the nomination fight, and with it, the presidency.
Eventually Rubio came out against his own bill and returned to his hardline opposition to reform, demanding stronger border security before anything else. (The timeline below explains his complicated evolution on the issue.)
But will Republican voters forgive him? A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 70 percent of GOP voters want the next president to oppose a path to citizenship. The issue is guaranteed to come up in the primary particularly given the crop of competing hard-right candidates like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both of whom voted against the bill.
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