Tom Rooney took to the national stage this past week as he offered the Republican response to Barack Obamas weekly radio address.
In his radio address, Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage. Obama also defended his executive action of raising the minimum wage for federal contracted employees to $10.10 an hour.
Rooney took on another theme, bashing Obama for cutting Medicare Advantage and telling Americans if they liked their health care they could keep it under Obamacare. The Florida Republican framed his position as defending seniors and talking about his constituents being forced to change their doctors due to Obamacare. Rooney said Congress should change Obamacare and let seniors keep their doctors.
Across the country, millions of seniors are now paying more money for fewer choices, less access and far less peace of mind, Rooney said. This goes well beyond a glitch or a pocketbook issue. This is a breach of faith. The presidents promises have proven false for working families, and now they are proving false for our seniors, as well.
Rooneys turn on the national stage offered a reminder that he has the potential to be a rising star for Republicans. The grandson of the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rooney, after graduating from college, worked for Connie Mack IIIs Senate mail room. Rooney cites it as a formative experience which gave him insight into understanding the issues confronting everyday Floridians. After going to law school, Rooney joined the Army, served in the JAG Corps and taught classes at West Point. He returned to Florida and became an assistant attorney general.
Despite his pedigree and credentials, Rooneys electoral career appeared stalled before it even started. He had no easy task in the Republican primary to challenge Democratic Congressman Tim Mahoney in 2008, but he defeated Gayle Harrell to secure the GOPs nomination. For most of the campaign, Mahoney appeared headed to a victory over Rooney, but the incumbent was plagued with reports of extramarital affairs in the final weeks of the election, including one with a staffer who received more than $120,000 from him. Rooney won big, taking 60 percent in the general election while Mahoney finished with less than 40 percent of the vote. While Rooney switched from the Palm Beach area to being more in the center of the state, he has easily won two other terms to the House.
Rooney has been prominent on a number of different fronts during his time in Congress, including the War on Terror, environmental affairs, foreign policy and agriculture. He has become increasingly critical of Obama. When Obama spoke in Jacksonville last summer, Rooney was one of the most vocal Republicans in Florida responding to the president. The radio response was only the latest shot from Rooney against Obama.
With a growing profile, Rooney, who is only 43, could soon be facing opportunities if he wants to follow in the elder Macks footsteps or head to Tallahassee as governor. But, whatever his record in Congress and his family ties, Rooney remains unknown in many parts of the state. Certainly chances like responding to Obama will help Rooney to raise his profile.
Right now, Rooney is one of a crowd. Florida has 27 congressmen and most of them are unknown outside their own districts. But Republicans would be wise to keep their eye on Rooney who is positioned to be a major player in Florida for years to come.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.