WASHINGTON DC —
Florida Senator Marco Rubio told his top donors that he is running for president because he feels "uniquely qualified" to represent the Republican Party.
Rubio, 43, the son of Cuban immigrants, declared his candidacy at an event Monday evening at the Miami site where authorities first registered Cubans fleeing the government of Fidel Castro in the 1960s.
"I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake, and I can make a difference as president," he said.
Referencing his Cuban-born parents, a bartender and maid, the lawmaker said, "America doesn’t owe me anything, but I have a debt to America that I must try to repay.… America is literally the place that changed my family’s history."
His comments prompted periodic, enthusiastic outbursts from a crowd of supporters, who clapped, whistled and shouted "Marco! Marco!"
Rubio, who rode the Tea Party wave of 2010 to national prominence, is making muscular foreign policy a focal point of his campaign, portraying himself as the Republican most ready to handle threats to America in a chaotic world.
A video promoting the announcement casts Rubio's campaign as a "new direction for America." It features clips of speeches in which he promotes the need for strong U.S. leadership in the world and criticizes President Barack Obama's policies.
In his video and campaign announcement, Rubio said the American dream is slipping from too many families' grip, and young people face unequal opportunities to succeed. It was a message honed to pitch the GOP as a party that cares about all voters, not just those in upper tax brackets.
Rubio is the third Republican to compete for the party's nomination for the 2016 election, joining fellow Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are also expected to run.
A first-term senator, Rubio will no doubt hear his rivals tell voters he's not ready for the White House. To counter that, Rubio has outlined specific policy proposals that boost him as a policy expert, both on foreign and domestic issues.
On Tuesday, on his first day as an official candidate, he is set to return to Washington to join a Senate hearing on a proposed deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions.
Right now, Rubio's support registers in single digits in opinion polls of the likely contenders in what is expected to be a crowded Republican presidential field. But aides believe Rubio, who was on 2012 nominee Mitt Romney's short list for vice president, will rise in the polls when voters take a closer look at him.
If elected, Rubio would become the nation's first Hispanic leader.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off her campaign by hitting the road on a multistate trip starting in Iowa, home of the country's first presidential caucus.
Clinton announced her candidacy as the Democratic nominee Sunday in an online video in which she promised to work for the middle class.
"Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by," Clinton said. "You can get ahead and stay ahead. Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."
Clinton is the first Democrat to join the race to succeed Obama, who defeated her in the 2008 Democratic primaries and cannot run again after serving two terms as president.
Recent polls indicate Clinton could beat every other possible Democrat for the party nomination, as well as win the general election over all Republican candidates.
But Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus said Sunday he believes voters do not trust her.
"Over decades as a Washington insider, Clinton has left a trail of secrecy, scandal and failed policies that cannot be erased from voters' minds."
They include the deadly terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and using an unofficial email account for official business as secretary of state. Republicans also are likely to bring up scandals involving her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
During a conference call with donors Monday, Rubio criticized Clinton as a leader from yesterday and said the 2016 race will be a choice between the past and the future, AP said.
"The Republican Party, for the first time in a long time, has a chance in this election to be the party of the future," Rubio told his donors. "Just yesterday, we heard from a leader from yesterday who wants to take us back to yesterday, but I feel that this country has always been about tomorrow."
If elected, Hillary Clinton would be the country's first female president.
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.