Before Marco Rubio became senator: 15 stories from his younger days

ByChris Moody
June 19, 2012, 12:13 PM

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The new autobiography by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, An American Son, hit stores on Tuesday. The memoir includes tales about Rubio's family, who left Cuba shortly before Fidel Castro took control of the government, his childhood growing up in Nevada and Florida and his rise from local Sunshine State politician to United States Senator. Throughout the book, Rubio discusses the mistakes he made in his political career, the influence of faith in his life and his passion for reforming the nation's immigration system.

But it isn't all heavy-handed political diatribe. There's also a bit of fun sprinkled throughout the story.

Here are 15 details you might not know about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, as told in his book:

1. As a teenager, Marco Rubio used to sneak onto the Biltmore Hotel golf course to drink beer, the same hotel where he held his Senate victory party.

Rubio describes the election night 2010: "We were at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. I had grown up less than two miles from the Mediterranean-style landmark nestled between large banyan trees and lush golf courses. ...My high school friends and I had snuck onto the resort's golf course at night; its gazebos offered the perfect hiding spot for underage beer drinking."

2. Down in the polls and way behind on fundraising, Rubio heavily considered quitting his Senate race against Charlie Crist

"I had all but convinced myself to quit. I had discussed getting out with several people whose discretion I trusted. I was badly trailing Governor Crist in popular support and fund-raising. Even if I were to get a little traction eventually and start to close the gap in the polls, he would have raised more than enough money to bury me in negative advertising, and I wouldn't have anywhere near enough to respond. I feared he would so tarnish my reputation that I would have a hard time finding a job after the primary and would never hold another elective office."

3. Rubio was so concerned about the Senate race that he didn't even write a victory speech

"In the final days of the campaign, I couldn't bring myself to write a victory speech. I worried I was getting ahead of myself, and might still lose the election. If that happened, I would have wasted valuable campaign time laboring over a speech I would never give. I also felt that, were I to win, my supporters would be so happy with the victory that my speech wouldn't matter. If I lost, no one would be watching."

4. In past interviews, Rubio has said his mother spent 'nine months' trying to convince Cuban authorities to let her return to the U.S. during a 1961 trip back to Cuba. It was actually a few days.

Rubio describes his mother's trip to Cuba in 1961, when she tried to convince her father to return to the country: "Cuba had changed radically by then, and travel privileges were curtailed. When she attempted to board her return flight to Miami, she encountered the scare of her life. Because she had been born in the United States, my sister, only two at the time, could leave Cuba. But my brother and my mother would not be allowed to leave, she was told. She was ordered to leave the airport, and to consider Cuba her home from now on. Though frightened, she refused to accept the decree. She returned each day for several days, pleading that her husband was in Miami, and she couldn't remain in Cuba without him."

5. In high school, Rubio was so disruptive that his teacher agreed to give him a 'C-' so long as he wouldn't show up to class again

"I was a frequent disruptive force in the classroom. One teacher wanted me out of his class so badly, he promised to give me a C-minus if I didn't come to class, and threatened to give me an F if I showed up again. I finished my senior year with a 2.1 grade point average."

6. Marco Rubio was a Ted Kennedy-supporting child Democrat

"My interest in politics began around the time we moved to Vegas, and by 1980 politics was a preoccupation second only to football. Two events had captured my attention that year: Senator Edward Kennedy's challenge to President Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination and the Iran hostage crisis. I was a Kennedy supporter. With rapt attention I watched the Democratic convention in New York, and was crushed by the outcome of what seemed an excruciatingly slow delegate count that gave the nomination to President Carter. I was inspired by Senator Kennedy's concession speech."

7. He was also a young 'union activist' who was angry at his father for being a scab during a strike

Workers at the hotel where his father was a bartender went on strike, and young Rubio joined the protests.

"I never grasped all the issues involved, but understood generally that the strikers were just asking to be treated fairly. They had worked hard to help make the hotels profitable, and were entitled to better compensation and benefits. I was excited to be part of the cause and join forces with striking workers from many hotels. ...I became a committed union activist. ... One day, a confrontation between strikers and returning workers turned violent, and my father stopped taking me to the camp. Not long after, he informed me he was going back to work. I accused him of selling out and called him a scab. It hurt him, and I'm ashamed of it. He had had no choice."

8. But his grandfather, a major influence in his life, convinced him to later become a Ronald Reagan-supporting Republican

"Reagan's election and my grandfather's allegiance to him were defining influences on me politically. I've been a Republican ever since. ...I wrote a paper in the fifth grade praising President Reagan for restoring the U.S. military after it had been demoralized and allowed to decay in the years before his presidency."

9. Rubio almost lost his future wife because he went to a South Beach 'foam party' with his friends against her wishes

"One night, near the end of the South Beach season, my friends and I made plans to attend one of our favorite South Beach haunts for a 'foam party,' where oceans of white foam are dropped from the ceiling and you find yourself dancing in it up to your waist. Jeanette told me if I went out that night, there would be no turning back. We would be over forever. I went out anyway. She had brought this on herself, I told myself. If we got back together, it would be on my terms, not hers. That night, near midnight, I looked up and watched the foam descend from the ceiling. It was a sight to behold. Then my beeper buzzed. It was Jeanette's number. I knew she was calling to see if I had gone out. ...I waded out of the foam to find a quieter place to consider my options."

(There's a happy ending; she took him back.)

10. While working for Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996 and flying from New Hampshire, Rubio joined a vodka shot contest and puked all over the plane in front of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

"A few of the younger volunteers stopped at a local liquor store and bought bottles of vodka. On the flight home, about ten of us celebrated our successful foray into New Hampshire politics by holding a vodka shot competition. I was one of the few still standing when the contest ended. Halfway through the flight, I started to feel sick. I knew I had to get to one of the plane's bathrooms before something unfortunate happened. I made my way to the front of the aircraft clutching a motion sickness bag when I realized I wasn't going to make it. I was going to throw up in full view of some of the most prominent Republicans in Florida. . ...I could either vomit on a congresswoman or on a fellow volunteer. I chose the latter."

11. For years, Rubio struggled with his personal finances, even while making $93,000 per year

Rubio describes trouble keeping up with finances while working at law firms in Florida: "My salary was $72,000, more than my parents had ever made combined. But it barely covered our basic expenses," he writes. Rubio found a job at another firm making $93,000, which he said matched his budget. Later, he says he did not feel "financially secure" during his married life until he found another job earning $300,000 per year.

12. Rubio teared up when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, and was 'moved deeply' by the historic election

"I was moved deeply by the historic significance of his election, and it overwhelmed my political concerns. As he reached the end of his speech and told the story of an elderly African American woman, born just two generations removed from slavery, braving a long line and cold weather to cast her vote that day for America's first black president, I saw the emotion and pride on the faces in the massive crowd that had gathered in Chicago's Grant Park to hear him. And I, too, became emotional with pride for my country. ...I was so proud to be an American, and so moved by the powerful symbolism of the moment, I couldn't stop myself from tearing up."

13. George F. Will does not excite Rubio's wife

During his Senate candidacy, Rubio was giddy when George Will praised his campaign. His wife--not so much.

"More good news arrived on September 25, when conservative columnist George Will wrote a very flattering and encouraging account of our campaign. On a Sunday morning a month later, I was making breakfast for the kids when I thought I heard Will mention my name on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I turned up the television in the kitchen in time to hear him predict I would win the primary. Jeanette came into the room and I excitedly told her the news. 'That's nice,' she said, then handed me a bag of garbage and asked me to take it outside."

14. To relax, Rubio watched scenes of This Is Spinal Tap between debate press sessions in 2010

"We always held a final, brief prep session on the day of the debate, and to break the tension, we would watch clips from the movie This Is Spinal Tap, a favorite of mine."

15. Rubio claims that Senate opponent Charlie Crist pounded Red Bull before debates: 'He reeked of it'

"I made my way to the the studio, where I found Crist already seated at the table. We exchanged pleasantries while a microphone was attached to my lapel. I was immediately struck by the smell of Red Bull. I don't know how much of the beverage Charlie had consumed, but it was enough to notice--he reeked of it. Plus he had a mug in front of him filled with coffee. I'm in for quite a ride, I thought to myself."