Marco Rubio's personal finances became an issue in the 2016 campaign this week when The New York Times published a lengthy piece detailing the Florida GOP senator's sometimes questionable spending habits and his occasional commingling of campaign and personal funds.
Elements of the story could prove damaging to Rubio—especially the use of campaign funds and employment of Rubio's spouse by a major campaign donor. But the overarching picture of a candidate from humble means struggling to pay off college loans and provide an education and comfortable life for his kids may wind up a benefit, making the candidate more relatable to voters who struggle with many of the same issues.
The Rubio campaign is counting on this.
Campaign spokesman Alex Conant told me this week he found it "sort of offensive for someone to suggest that he's bad with money because he's been paying off student loans while investing in his kids' education, donating to charity, and providing his family a safe and nice life."
Conant added: "For all the Times' breathlessness, the facts are pretty simple: Marco has one debt, which is his home mortgage. He owns his truck outright and his wife leases another (until recently a Buick). He's given a lot to charity, putting his kids a private school education and savings for college, and has retirement accounts with the state Legislature and U.S. Senate. Considering that he inherited no wealth and took out a lot of student debt to go to college and law school, I'd argue that he has a good financial story to tell—or at least one that is relatable to a lot of Americans."
The personal financial narrative also contrasts with that of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of Rubio's principal rivals in the establishment lane in the GOP primary. Bush comes from a famous, wealthy family (though he too left office without great personal wealth).
Rubio was already pitching himself as an American success story, the son of immigrants who lifted himself up by dint of hard work. It's a powerful message that's helped lift Rubio into the top tier of GOP hopefuls and led Democrats to fear him as perhaps the most potent general election challenger to Hillary Clinton.
But the Times story is not an unalloyed positive.