TAMPA -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had his biggest moment in the spotlight Thursday night as a rising Republican star, and by most accounts, he nailed it.
Yes, there was the flub -- he mixed up his words and said Republicans chose more government when he was introducing Mitt Romney as the party's nominee for president -- but his message of less government hit home with many party faithful.
The 41-year-old conservative and son of Cuban immigrants successfully wooed delegates from West Virginia to Texas this week, with many saying they think he could run for president someday.
Rubio didn't get the vice-presidential nomination as many, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, had said they hoped. But he did get a tremendous boost for his future in the events leading up to and including his nationally televised speech.
He was seemingly everywhere, including places where you don't often find Republicans, such as Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and an interview with Black Entertainment Television.
And his speech was widely praised as an inspirational message about the opportunities that America can provide.
In his case, it was his parents who worked 16-hour days tending bar and cleaning hotel rooms so that one day he could stand on a podium and introduce a presidential nominee.
"He's probably the first on the list of the next generation," said Bruce Slover, 58, of Houston, a Texas delegate at the convention. He said Rubio's speaking spot was a launching pad for a presidential run. "That's kind of the mantle. You're up next. And in Texas, we're thrilled to death."
Floridians are familiar with Rubio's life story, a feel-good account of parents who left Cuba to provide their children with a better life in the United States. Rubio was born in Miami and has often talked about how his parents worked hard to allow him to have opportunities they never had, and that America is the only country where a story like his can happen.
"He's got a terrific personality, which is very nice. There's a charisma there," said Barbara Fish, 65, a delegate from Parkersburg, W.Va., who said she expects him to be among the next Republican group to seek the presidency. "We're really thinking that he can be on the short list."
He's had a rapid rise in Florida politics. He was a city commissioner in West Miami before being elected to the state House, where he became the first Cuban-American House speaker.
Two years after leaving office, he was mocked for thinking he could beat popular incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist to win the 2010 Senate race. When the race began, Crist was raising $13 for every $1 donated to Rubio. A Quinnipiac University poll just before both men got in the race showed 54 percent of Republicans preferred Crist and only 8 percent would support Rubio.
But Rubio used a conservative message to win over tea partiers, then Florida Republicans and eventually the Washington establishment. Crist bolted the party to run as an independent and was soundly beaten by Rubio in a three-way race.
Not that there haven't been bumps in the road for Rubio. In his newly released memoir "An American Son," he addresses past criticism of himself for charging personal items on Republican Party credit cards to the beginning of foreclosure proceedings on a house he co-owned.
But delegates this week were focusing this week on his positives: telegenic, charismatic and a gifted orator. His Hispanic roots are also regarded as a plus for a party that's realizing it has to better appeal to such voters after candidates hammered away at concerns about illegal immigrants, many Latino, during the presidential primary season.
"He's got a message of hope for this country. He understands job creation, he understands that limited government is the role that we need for our lives," said delegate and Tennessee state Rep. Ryan Haynes, 27, of Knoxville. "The other thing is his Hispanic background. Right now a lot of people say the Republican Party doesn't sway enough Hispanics. That's going to change."