By James Oliphant
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Presidential candidate Marco Rubio will deliver an economic speech in Chicago on Tuesday with the goal of separating himself from the packed field of Republican candidates and kick-starting his campaign into a more active, visible phase.
Rubio, a senator from Florida, has spent much of the last several weeks either bogged down in a U.S. Senate preoccupied with a Pacific Rim trade deal or out of the public eye raising money.
But after his Chicago speech, Rubio will visit Iowa and then Nevada, both of which hold key nominating contests early next year. His campaign says to expect further travel, likely to New Hampshire.
With his Cuban-American background, youth and compelling biography, Rubio, 44, has long been viewed by campaign analysts as one candidate in the ever-growing field of 14 who could break out from the pack.
As yet, however, there is little sign of that. State polls in early primary states, save for his home state of Florida, have typically shown Rubio struggling to crack double-digits. A Reuters Ipsos poll showed Rubio drawing support from 9.6 percent of likely Republican primary voters nationally - behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the nominal front-runner, and reality show star Donald Trump.
Rubio is expected to use his speech in Chicago to defend his tax-reform plan, which has been criticized in conservative circles, and touch upon themes that some economists say sound unusual coming from a Republican presidential hopeful.
Rubio has used previous campaign events to discuss the plight of working mothers, middle-class families and college students, wading into topics that Democrats often emphasize. He has questioned whether a traditional college education provides a good bargain for some students who he says would benefit more from skills-based training.
“Only through an innovative economy can we translate new technologies into new middle-class jobs,” Rubio will say Tuesday, according to excerpts of his speech released ahead of time, “and only through a revolutionized higher education system can we equip all our people to fill those jobs.”
James Pethokoukis, a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said Rubio deserved credit for trying to develop an agenda that goes beyond criticizing President Barack Obama and the leading Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton.
But Pethokoukis, like several conservatives, was critical of Rubio’s tax plan, which would simplify the federal tax code and offer new tax credits to families with children. Unlike some plans floated by Rubio's rivals, his plan would not significantly lower the top-tier income tax rates, though it would cut the corporate tax rate.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Leslie Adler)