Rubio is central in a Republican effort to regain a segment of the Latino electorate. The Senator has projected himself as a moderate, without distancing himself from the Tea Party plaftorm he rode into office with. This is in contrast with the aggressive style of Ted Cruz, another major Latino figure on the GOP stage.
At the same time, the Florida lawmaker is one of four Republican members of the Gang of Eight senators who are negotiating the content of an immigration reform bill.
According to the Growth and Opportunity Project, this bill could open doors for Republicans when it comes to Latinos. The GOP hopes Rubio makes the most of the support he has among the Tea Party's ultraconservatives.
The big question is what Rubio's priority is: responding to the party's strategy or seeking favor with a sector of the party base that is increasingly upset about the course of the reform? This ambivalence is reflected in his contradictory tone of wanting reform yet being willing to have it languish in endless hearings; or as he also did, calling a deal "premature," in the face of optimism from a Democratic colleague.
At this point, Rubio is a juggler. Eventually, he will have to decide between supporting immigration reform and continuing to cultivate an enthusiastic GOP base or stalling a policy overhaul that hundreds of thousands of families are counting on. This decision is at the center of the Republican strategy in various fronts, where they want to portray a more open, inclusive image.
The success of immigration reform does not rest solely on Rubio. But his decisions and ultimate message could be make or break for a party that has much to lose if it further alienates Latino voters.