Marco Rubio focused quite a bit on his past to make his case for a future presidency during a recent visit to Iowa.
During an interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, the Republican touted his accomplishments to counter criticisms he is still a first-term senator, just as President Barack Obama was when he was elected president.
"I certainly feel I’m running for office with much more experience and qualifications than Barack Obama had when he ran. When Barack Obama ran for president, he was basically a state legislator from Illinois that had served in the Senate for two years," Rubio said April 25. "I, on the other hand, have been a legislative leader from the third-largest state in the country who has served in the Senate four and a half years, and have invested a significant amount of time in national security issues, particularly intelligence."
So is Rubio right in saying his résumé is much more impressive than Obama’s was almost a decade ago? We’ll check both candidates’ curriculum vitae.
Let’s start with an executive summary: Rubio, if he’s elected, will have spent about 17 years in politics and 19 years working overall. Obama had about 12 years in politics and 20 years of overall political and work experience. When you dig into the details, though, the differences between the two men seem fairly marginal.
If Rubio is elected president in 2016, he will have the benefit of basically serving almost a full, six-year term in the U.S. Senate, more than the four that first-term Sen. Obama served from 2004 to 2008. During the Register interview, Rubio talked up his time on the foreign relations and intelligence committees, working to fashion himself as a foreign policy wonk. He also has served on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Rubio had 11 years of political experience before that: almost two years as a part-time West Miami city commissioner from April 1998 to January 2000 and nearly nine years as a Florida state representative. He joined the Florida House after a special election in early 2000 and served through 2008 before leaving because of term limits. In the House, Rubio served as whip, majority leader and eventually speaker.
Beyond that, Rubio graduated from South Miami Senior High School in 1989, attended three colleges and graduated from the University of Florida in 1993 before getting a law degree from the University of Miami in 1996. When not in politics, Rubio worked as a lawyer for private firms and shared teaching duties for a politics class at Florida International University in 2008 and 2009.
Obama’s history includes 12 years in politics before he entered the Oval Office. He was a senator from Illinois for almost four years from 2005 to 2008, although we’ll note that Obama announced his candidacy in 2006, so that’s really the point to which Rubio is comparing himself. We’re going to stick with the totals when he was elected, however.
Obama also served on the foreign relations committee, as well as veterans affairs. He was on the environment and public works committee before that assignment was replaced with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and also homeland security and governmental affairs.
Obama also served eight years in the Illinois state Senate from 1997 to 2004. Democrats only took majority control of the Illinois Senate in 2003, acting as the minority party during the rest of Obama’s years. (He also lost a primary run for the U.S House in 2000.)
Obama was a 1983 graduate of Columbia University, then a financial analyst for a year, and a community organizer in Chicago for three years before attending Harvard Law School. He earned his law degree in 1991 and ran a voter registration drive called Illinois Project Vote in 1992. He worked for a private law firm in Chicago and began teaching in 1993, working as a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago law school while serving as a state senator.
We find Obama and Rubio’s overall experience to be roughly equivalent. Rubio would have an edge in political experience, although his time as a part-time city commissioner for a town of less than 6,000 people isn’t as rigorous as holding statewide office. Obama’s term as a senator came to a close sooner than Rubio’s would, due to the timing of the elections.
But real-life experience outside the bubble of politics counts for something, too. Obama worked for years doing several different jobs, while Rubio spent some time as a lawyer. The time frame has something to do with it -- Obama was 47 when he became president, while Rubio would be 45 if he won election in November 2016.
Rubio can claim he’ll have a few more years in political office, but Obama had a wider range of occupations. We rate the statement Half True.