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Republicans Renew Focus on Poverty

By Scott Conroy - December 6, 2012

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“When 40 percent of all children born into the lowest income quintile never rise above it, what does it say about our country?” the Wisconsin congressman asked. “To me, it says our economy is failing to provide basic security, much less rising wages.”

For his part, Rubio has placed combating poverty on his agenda since he was sworn in as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2007, and he incorporated the theme of upward mobility into his closely watched speech at the Republican National Convention last summer.

A key reason many Republicans see Rubio as the party’s greatest hope for winning back the White House in four years is his experience as the son of poor immigrants and his fluency in explaining how conservative ideals can help others ascend the economic ladder.

“One of the fundamental promises of America is the opportunity to make it to the middle class,” Rubio said Tuesday night. “But today, there is a growing opportunity gap developing, and millions of Americans worry that they may never achieve middle class prosperity and stability and that their children will be trapped as well with the same life and the same problems.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- another Republican considered a potential presidential contender in 2016 and also the son of immigrants -- has emphatically called on the party to take a new tack regarding poverty and not to discount an entire group of voters who have backed Democratic in recent national elections.

The early emphasis on the issue among this trio of Republican leaders has heartened conservatives who believe the GOP has failed to build on Kemp’s legacy.

“Romney didn’t seem to have the language . . . that connected his sound business sense with how this would help elevate as many people as possible, and so it’s good to get people like Ryan and Rubio starting early to talk this way,” said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former George W. Bush appointee. “I think there’s an opening here now for creative, Jack Kemp-type of ways to talk about reducing the deficit and expanding opportunity for everyone, and they’re clearly trying to leap into that void.” 

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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