The Republican from Florida had told top donors Monday morning that he would run for the White House because he is "uniquely qualified" to represent the GOP in the 2016 presidential race, a source told Reuters.
Rubio says the White House is not reserved for the rich and powerful, and says he, the son of a bartender and a maid, has the same chance to serve as those who come from power and privilege.
Rubio's comments marked a contrast to two members of political dynasties who are likely rivals: Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat and former secretary of state; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican.
Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants who rode the anti-establishment Tea Party wave of 2010 to national prominence, formally announced his presidential bid in a speech at Miami's Freedom Tower.
That is where thousands of Cuban exiles fleeing the communist-run island in the 1960s were first registered by U.S. authorities. Rubio is expected to make a 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.
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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 when voters take a closer look at him.
During the campaign, Rubio probably will compete for donors and endorsements with his political mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been lining up support for a White House bid although he has not yet formally entered the race.
While he owes his success to the Tea Party movement, Rubio also has drawn support from more traditional party elements as well as the libertarian-leaning network assembled by billionaires Charles and David Koch.
His effort to overhaul the United States' immigration system could be a sticking point for Republican conservatives, many of whom view any move to grant legal status to undocumented workers as "amnesty."
Rubio worked with Senate Democrats to pass a sweeping immigration reform bill in 2013 that bolstered border security and guest-worker programs with a pathway to citizenship for those now in the country illegally. The measure died in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Rubio now says any immigration reforms must be passed piece by piece, with border security coming first, a position more in line with other Republican lawmakers. But he talks frequently about the central role immigrants play in revitalizing the United States.
—CNBC.com staff contributed to this report.