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Support for Sen. Marco Rubio's Presidential Campaign Grows On Capitol Hill


Florida Senator Marco Rubio is holding steady at third place in the latest polls for the Republican nomination. But at least in one area, he is gaining. Rubio trails only one of his opponents, Jeb Bush, when it comes to endorsements from members of Congress. NPR's Susan Davis reports on the presidential favorites on Capitol Hill.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan and Congresswoman Barbara Comstock of Virginia both credit the same people for helping make their decisions to endorse Marco Rubio.

BILL HUIZENGA: My kids - I have a senior in high school who's very enthusiastic about Rubio.

BARBARA COMSTOCK: When I found out, too, like, my kids asked me, so when are you going to endorse? You know, they knew that's where I was, but they were asking, you know, when are you going to, you know, move forward?

DAVIS: Many Democratic lawmakers said it was their children who influenced them in 2008 when they were looking for next-generation candidate and endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. In 2016, that candidate for many Republicans, at least on Capitol Hill, is 44-year-old Marco Rubio. Another young Republican, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, explains Rubio's growing support on the Hill.

CORY GARDNER: It is a function of opinions - how people feel about him, how people feel about his leadership, how people feel about his workmanship. And I think in that respect, it's a very telling measure of who people believe would make the best president of the United States.

DAVIS: Gardner is one of 27 members of Congress who have endorsed Rubio so far. He trails only Jeb Bush in endorsements. Bush has 31 supporters in Congress. While Bush's endorsements have largely flatlined since early December, Rubio has picked up four times the number of supporters in that same time period. Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz says endorsements aren't a major factor in deciding the nomination, but they do send a message to voters about who their representatives in Washington think would be the best president.

JASON CHAFFETZ: I hope people look at it and say, why are all the people that actually know the candidates going to Marco Rubio? That should tell some people some stuff.

DAVIS: In this alternate universe on Capitol Hill, the candidates leading in the national polls are tanking here. Texas Senator Ted Cruz - he has about half the endorsements that Rubio has, and none of his Senate colleagues are backing him. And while Donald Trump has captured the nation's attention, the people's house is unimpressed. Trump has zero endorsements from members of Congress. Rubio backers say he is a better messenger than the Donald for the Republican Party in 2016. Here's Chaffetz again.

CHAFFETZ: He's not going to say the ridiculous, sensational thing that will grab every headline, and - but he is the right person to convey the conservative message, and that's what this younger generation of conservatives want.

DAVIS: What excites Republicans like Utah's Mia Love the most about Rubio is what she hears from Democrats in Congress.

MIA LOVE: When I go on the other side of the aisle and I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle - which should be telling - who would they least like as the GOP nominee, it's 100 percent of the time Marco Rubio.

DAVIS: Historically, the candidate with the most endorsements from members of Congress usually wins the nomination, but in this anti-Washington climate, it's unclear whether being one of the most popular candidates in one of the least popular institutions can get you as far. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.