Rubio tells donors he is running for White House

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MIAMI (AP) -- Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday took on Hillary Rodham Clinton in his first words as a presidential candidate, telling top donors he is running for the Republican nomination because the 2016 race for the White House should be about the future, not the past.

The first-term Republican from Florida, 43, also told his most generous backers that he feels "uniquely qualified" to pitch his Republican Party as one that will defend the American Dream.

Rubio spoke on a conference call with donors before a flashy political rally set for Monday night in Miami.

In previewing his campaign's central message, Rubio said the dream is slipping from too many families' grip, and young Americans 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.

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Rubio tells donors he is running for White House
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio smiles as he speaks to supporters as he announces that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination, during a rally at the Freedom Tower, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announces his candidacy for President of the United States on Monday April 13, 2015, at the Freedom Tower in Miami. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 13: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stands with his wife, Jeanette Rubio, after announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at the Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Rubio is one of three Republican candidates to announce their plans on running against the Democratic challenger for the White House. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Campaign buttons in support of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the Freedom Tower, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 13: A supporter of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) waits for his arrival as it is anticipated that he will announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at the Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Rubio would be one of three Republican candidates to announce their plans on running against the Democratic challenger for the White House. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announces his candidacy for President of the United States on Monday April 13, 2015, at the Freedom Tower in Miami. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 13: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) holds a baby handed to him by a supporter as he greets people after announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at the Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Rubio is one of three Republican candidates to announce their plans on running against the Democratic challenger for the White House. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 10: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
US Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio speaks at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio arrives to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media as he is joined by other congressional people as they address the decision by President Barack Obama to change the United States Cuba policy on December 18, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Rubio was joined by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) as they held the press conference to denounce the changes to U.S.-Cuba policy by the Obama administration. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - APRIL 17: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) interacts with people at an event to show support for the Venezuelan community at the El Arepazo 2 Restaurant on April 17, 2014 in Doral, Florida. Rubio and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) spoke about the need for the United States to support the opposition in Venezuela against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
US Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio listens to Senator Max Baucus as he testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation to become the next US ambassdor to China on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on January 28, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 10: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) arrives for a Senate Intelligence Committee closed hearing, on Capitol Hill, September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama will address the nation about Syria on Tuesday evening. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
US Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio speaks at the BuzzFeed Brews newsmaker event in Washington on February 5, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - FEBRUARY 28: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) walks out of the El Arepzo 2 restaurant on February 28, 2014 in Doral, Florida. Rubio and Florida Governor Rick Scott held a meet and greet with the Venezuelan community to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 31: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) is greeted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at the conclusion of his remarks during a campaign rally at the BankUnited Center on the campus of the University of Miami on October 31, 2012 in Miami, Florida. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy which hit the northeastern part of the United States, Romney is back to campaigning before the general election on November 6. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 30: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (FL) walks on stage during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
US Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, waits to speak during a seminar on 'Is the American World Order Sustainable and Necessary in the 21st Century?' at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on April 25, 2012. Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney dodged mounting speculation Monday about a potential running mate, even with Senator Marco Rubio, the man now in the VP spotlight, standing right beside him. Rubio is the latest among potential vice presidential picks to hit the campaign trail with Romney, but the first since the frontrunner's main rival Rick Santorum bowed out of the Republican race two weeks ago. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages)
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, appears on "The Five" television program, on Fox News Channel, in New York, Monday, March 30, 2015. Closing in on an expected announcement that he will run for president, Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday that he is planning a political event in two weeks in Miami to announce his 2016 plans. The first-term Republican from Florida, appearing on Fox News, did not explicitly say he is running for the White House, instead telling would-be supporters to go to his website and reserve tickets for the rally. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., laughs as he is introduced during the fourth annual "Faith and Freedom BBQ" hosted by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan in Anderson, S.C., Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to guests during the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2011 file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks in Simi Valley, Calif. Rubio's push for a Republican version of immigration legislation could be the answer to GOP election-year prayers. The telegenic son of Cuban exiles and potential vice presidential pick is putting together a bill that would allow young illegal immigrants to study and work in the United States but still deny them citizenship. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Republican Sen.-elect Marco Rubio celebrates his win with supporters in Coral Gables, Fla., Tuesday Nov. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
MIAMI - APRIL 27: Marco Rubio speaks with his mother, Oria Rubio, before signing election documents officially qualifying him as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate on April 27, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Rubio would become the Republican candidate to beat if his current challenger, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, switches parties to become an Independent candidate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 18: Marco Rubio waves to attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on February 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. Rubio is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)
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"I feel uniquely qualified to not just make that argument, but to outline the policies that we need to have in order to achieve it," he said.

A young man in a hurry, Rubio will no doubt hear 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.

Rubio's presidential announcement comes a day after Clinton announced her bid for the Democratic nomination and as she is traveling to Iowa on her first trip as a candidate.

That's likely to rob some attention from Rubio's splash into the race. But Rubio saw an opportunity to cast the presidential contest as one between a fresh face representing a new generation of leadership and a long-familiar figure harking back to the 1990s - namely, Clinton.

"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."

Rubio faces steep challenges to winning the nomination, one of them from his mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Rubio would become the third major GOP contender to declare himself a candidate, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, in a field that could grow to 20 or more candidates.

A first-generation immigrant whose parents fled Cuba, Rubio could make history as the nation's first Hispanic president (as could Cruz). Rubio frames his pitch to voters as the embodiment of American opportunity, as the son of a maid and bartender who worked his way through law school and now sits in Congress.

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