Updated Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 02:33 PM
PALM BEACH, Fla.— Does Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have the bipartisan appeal to succeed on the national stage?
Does he have the salivary glands?
Those were among the questions ricocheting Wednesday after potential 2016 presidential candidate and Time magazine-anointed “Republican Savior” Rubio delivered Tuesday night’s GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
Rubio’s 15-minute speech lauded free enterprise and limited government, called for a “responsible, permanent solution” on immigration and warned against “unconstitutionally undermining” the Second Amendment.
But what instantly set the Internet ablaze was the junior senator’s bout with xerostomia, or dry mouth, about 11 minutes into his remarks and his awkward lunge for an off-camera water bottle to slake his thirst.
Internet wags quickly gave the episode labels such as “watergate” or “aqua lunge” or “the Big Gulp.”
Rubio poked fun at himself, too, immediately posting a picture of the 8-ounce Poland Spring bottle on Twitter and hoisting bottled water during network TV appearances Wednesday morning.
“I needed water — what am I going to do? You know, it happens. God has a funny way of reminding us we’re human,” Rubio said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The Democratic National Committee (DNC), which held a conference call Monday to rip Rubio in advance of his speech, slammed Rubio again Wednesday. The DNC news release featured a picture of a Poland Spring bottle — but said Rubio’s problems went beyond dry mouth.
“It wasn’t just about the famous water lunge,” the DNC release stated. “Sen. Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union was most notable for how much it sounded like the very same failed policies that Republicans have been running on for years if not decades — the same failed set of ideas that Mitt Romney ran for president on just last year as the GOP’s standard-bearer.”
Republican consultant David Johnson of Tallahassee agreed Rubio didn’t break new policy ground, but he said what was more significant was that the GOP presented a fresh face and that Rubio further introduced himself to people outside Florida.
Rubio, 41, the bilingual son of a bartender and store clerk who were Cuban immigrants, noted his humble upbringing in West Miami, mentioned that he only recently paid off his student loans and used the phrase “middle class” 16 times in his speech.
Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale said Rubio’s water grab didn’t hurt him and his initial good-humored response to it could end up being a plus for him. Schale said Democrats should take Rubio seriously as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
“ ‘Watergate’ aside, he’s the real deal,” Schale said. “And folks who take him lightly on my side do so at their own peril.”
Sen. Marco Rubio takes a sip of water during his response.