RALEIGH – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took the stage in Raleigh Saturday evening to a cheering crowd looking for inspiration from the youngest Republican running in the presidential primary. The rally at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds brought hundreds of people of all ages, but the group skewed younger, with university students from nearby N.C. State and colleges across the state waving signs and interrupting him with applause.
“I had a student loan. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, I grew up living paycheck to paycheck. My wife and I are trying to raise our children in the modern world, teaching them our values, not the ones that are shoved down our throats in popular media,” said 44-year-old Rubio.
“Something is wrong now, you see it in people’s faces and in their voices. This is not the America they want to leave their children. It’s not the American that made us the greatest nation in the world. Seven years ago this nation made a mistake. With me you’re not just going to have a president who says America is the greatest country in the world, you’ll have a president who acts like it.”
Rubio appeared to stand out from the Republican pack of candidates with a dominating presence of young supporters and his criticism of the Republican establishment. His message resonated with the group, but some in the crowd liked more than his words.
“We like him because he’s really attractive, but we also really like his Christian views and his views on immigration,” laughed 19-year-old Rachel Baker, a freshman at N.C. State and first-time voter. “He’s an advocate for young people. I saw Donald Trump and I was not impressed.”
Rubio is on a swing through the southeast, and like other hopefuls identified North Carolina as a key state in the race to the White House. A solidly purple state, President Obama narrowly squeaked out a win here against Sen. John McCain in 2008. In 2012, Mitt Romney took the state, also by a slim margin.
“We can’t just send any Republican,” said Rubio. “I was told I couldn’t run, that I had to let others run who had been around 20 or 30 years because it was their turn. I said ‘turn for what?’ After the last seven years of Barack Obama, there isn’t time for patience. We have to get this right or we will get more of the same.”
His hour-long speech hit mostly on the issues that appealed to economic conservatives in the state, but he also supported gun rights and anti-abortion efforts.
“This economy isn’t working for people today – everything costs more and jobs don’t pay enough because this president abandoned free enterprise,” said Rubio. “If you want an economy dominated by government there are countries all over the world like that. You should move there.”
He promised to repeal Obama’s executive orders, change social security and Medicare for future generations, increase use of the E-verify, hire more border patrol agents, and restore lost funding for military and intelligence agencies. He also called for allowing veterans to take their medical coverage to private hospitals if necessary. He described the challenges that his brother faces in getting medical treatment for an injury suffered while serving as an Army Green Beret based at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, N.C. His call to repeal Obamacare got the biggest cheers.
“I am the only one running for president who has done anything at all about Obamacare. In 2014, I wiped out that bailout fund. The newspapers said what I did was so terrible it’s going to lead to the collapse of Obamacare. And know what I said? ‘That’s right’.”
Earlier this week Rubio’s North Carolina Co-Chairs, State Sen. Andrew Brock and State Rep. Jason Saine, announced that three former North Carolina GOP Chairmen — Former Congressman Robin Hayes, Former Raleigh mayor Tom Fetzer, and Former GOP Chairman Farrell Blount — will help lead his campaign’s efforts in North Carolina. They were on hand for Saturday’s rally.
“We are Americans and we love our country. We are concerned about our country. We are concerned because our health insurance costs more than our mortgage and for the first time we don’t feel safe at home anymore,” said Fetzer, introducing Rubio. “Are we a new generation of America patriots who will love our country and stand by her? He gives us hope in the American dream because he’s lived it. He can defeat the entrenched established political class because he’s done it.”
“Its a great day for Raleigh, for Marco Rubio, and for the GOP. For so many young people to show up for a political event on a Saturday afternoon? I was blown away,” said Saine. “Not just people under 40, not just under 30, but 18 and 19 years old, getting engaged. From what I remember as a little boy with Reagan having so many young people engaged in the process, you saw that here today.”
After the rally Rubio was swarmed by supporters wanting photos with him. He stayed with the enthusiastic crowd for selfies and autographs for 45 minutes before he and his North Carolina team headed to a $1,000 per ticket fundraiser at a private home.
“Hillary Clinton does not want to run against me. They are constantly attacking me. But I sure do want to run against her and I hope you’ll give me that opportunity,” said Rubio. “In November 2016 we will beat Hillary Clinton right here in the state of North Carolina.”
The speech was held at the Holshouser Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds with a boat show going in the Graham building next door. It gave Rubio a chance to poke fun at critics’ accusations that he bought a “luxury yacht” that turned out to be a 24-foot fishing boat.
“America is a special and exceptional country, better than anywhere else in the world,” he said. “With your support, history will say that in the early part of this century we lived in a time of uncertainty and fear, and that we rose up and did what we had to do leave this a better country than we found it. If we do that it is going to be a new American century. Together we are going to turn this country around and if you have a chance, go buy a boat.”
The General Assembly’s vote earlier this year to move the presidential primary up from May to March 15 put North Carolina among the states who will have more influence over the parties’ nominations for president than the Tarheel state has in past elections.