A Republican millionaire with an apparent fondness for '90s rap has thrown his support behind U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.
California winery owner John Jordan’s new super PAC released a one-minute commercial before the Nov. 10, 2015, GOP primary debate. The political action committee is cheekily named Baby Got PAC, a reference to the 1992 Sir Mix-a-Lot magnum opus Baby Got Back.
In the ad, reportedly written by Jordan, a narrator explains the PAC is pulling for Rubio over the rest of the Republicans because the Floridian is the one that Democrats fear most in the general election.
"It’s a tough choice. So you know who we asked? Hillary Clinton and the Democrats," the ad said while flashing three lines as proof of their point. "For once, they told the truth. They admitted there’s one candidate who scares Hillary Clinton, and that’s Sen. Marco Rubio."
Cue Sir Mix-a Lot: Now, we like checking campaign statements, and we cannot lie! But is this a charge Democrats just can’t deny? (Sorry, we just had to get that out of the way.)
We should note we didn’t find any instance of Hillary Clinton saying she was afraid of Rubio or any other candidate, and her campaign did not return our requests for comment. That’s important to keep in mind, since the ad mentions her by name.
Saying "there’s one candidate who scares Hillary Clinton" implies her campaign is unconcerned with the rest of the GOP field, which likely is not the case. A November 2015 story from the Daily Beast included Democratic donors and strategists saying Clinton’s campaign was until recently more occupied with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and is now focusing on Rubio as Bush fades.
Florida-based Republican media consultant Rick Wilson produced the ad and confirmed with PolitiFact Florida where each of the three lines featured in the commercial came from. Let’s take them one at a time:
"A Hillary Clinton match-up with Marco Rubio is a scary thought for Democrats." — the New York Times: On May 22, 2015, the New York Times published an article about Democratic strategists discussing Rubio, who announced his candidacy in April. The commercial’s quote is the headline word for word.
Every source in the story at least acknowledged Rubio was a candidate worth addressing, while some said he would be a tough opponent. That’s not to say Rubio is the only candidate they are worried about, which the ad comes close to implying, but the article highlighted his strengths in contrast to Hillary Clinton. For example, the New York Times piece said Clinton is working harder on winning the Hispanic vote.
The story included comments from 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle; Democratic strategist Christopher Lehane; former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and his millionaire donor John Morgan; former Florida House Democratic leader Dan Gelber and more.
Crist, who lost a Senate race to Rubio in 2010, called Rubio’s story of a blue-collar upbringing "compelling," while Gelber said Rubio could make "young women swoon, old women pass out, and toilets flush themselves."
The New York Times also interviewed Steve Schale, formerly Barack Obama’s Florida campaign director, who had written a blog post about the state’s Hispanic voters the same month the paper published its story.
In that blog post, Schale wrote:
"Marco Rubio scares me. I’ve been pretty consistent on this one. If you are a Democrat, he should be the one you don’t want to face, because I do think, if he is the nominee, he is the one who could significantly change the Hispanic math in Florida and the Latino math out west. Why? I truly believe he will benefit from the same identity politics that galvanized African American voters behind Obama."
That brings us to the next piece of evidence ...
"Marco Rubio scares me … If you’re a Democrat, he should be the one you don’t want to face." — Obama strategist to Cokie Roberts: This quote from Schale’s blog post appeared in one of Roberts’ syndicated columns with her husband, Steven. The headline on the column was "Why Rubio scares the Democrats."
Now, we must note Schale didn’t say this to Roberts, as the PAC ad claims, and Schale told us he hadn’t spoken to her. She only quoted him and linked to his post. Roberts pointed to Rubio’s personality, storytelling ability and defense of his Hispanic heritage as strengths.
"Rubio is the best storyteller in the Republican field. The tales he tells — of his father the bartender and his mother the hotel maid — send a powerful message: I know what your lives are like. I'm just like you," Roberts wrote.
That jibed with what Schale thought, and still does.
"I definitely did say I'm scared of Marco, and I still think he's our party's biggest threat," Schale told PolitiFact Florida.
Keep in mind, however, that Schale worked for the Draft Biden 2016 super PAC to convince Vice President Joe Biden to run for president. He thinks Rubio is a threat not just to Hillary Clinton, but to any Democratic hopeful.
"I believe he is their strongest candidate," he said.
"Bill Clinton believes Marco Rubio is Hillary’s biggest threat." — Fox News: The ad is referring to author Ed Klein’s Oct. 14, 2015, appearance on Fox & Friends. After the first Democratic primary debate, Fox interviewed Klein, who wrote the book Unlikeable: The Problem With Hillary.
During the segment, Klein described an anonymously sourced story from the book, in which Bill Clinton allegedly said Rubio was his wife’s greatest challenger because of Rubio’s age and appeal to Hispanic voters. (Fox News’ online headline was "Author: Bill Clinton Believes This GOP Contender Is Hillary's Biggest Threat.")
Klein’s description of the incident in his book quotes Bill Clinton thusly: "He’s young, Hispanic, and a good speaker. He’d pose a generational challenge (to Hillary, who will turn 69 in 2016) and a challenge for the Hispanic vote, which we need to win…. We’ve got to destroy him before he gets off the ground."
The author previously had written very critical books about the Clintons and the Obamas, and has faced criticism from both liberal and conservative camps over thin sourcing and sensational allegations. Bill Clinton’s office told us it questioned Klein’s credibility, and therefore the claim. A Clinton spokesman called Klein’s version of events an "alternate reality."
Baby Got PAC is putting a lot of faith in one anonymously sourced anecdote for its ad. The story also doesn’t constitute asking either Hillary or Bill Clinton directly whether they feel Rubio is a threat. But Klein insists the former president made the comment.
"I stand by the quote, which was related to me by a very reliable source who was in the room and heard Bill Clinton talk about Rubio," Klein told PolitiFact Florida.
Baby Got PAC’s ad said Democrats "admitted there’s one candidate who scares Hillary Clinton, and that’s Sen. Marco Rubio."
There’s no actual statement from Hillary Clinton saying as much, so that part of the commercial is a stretch. The commercial does share some sources that quote Democratic politicians and operatives, and leans heavily on former Obama campaign director Schale, who wrote a blog post expressing some anxiety about Rubio. Schale, it’s worth noting, favored Biden over Hillary Clinton initially. Baby Got PAC further puts a lot of faith in an anecdote involving Bill Clinton that is largely unsubstantiated.
With those caveats, it’s still clear Rubio’s campaign is a concern to strategists on the left. We rate the statement Half True.