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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A glimpse at the tricky business of campaigning as Marco Rubio

11

January

Marco Rubio, candidate of “generational change,” insists President Barack Obama, candidate of “hope and change,” has pushed through too much -- you got it -- “change.”

“In 2008, this nation made a terrible mistake,” Rubio said at a rally Sunday in downtown Miami. “It elected someone as president, Barack Obama, who wasn’t interested in fixing the problems of America. You know what he wants to do? He wants to change America. He wanted America to become more like the rest of the world.”

Rubio, though, pledged to do the same thing -- only better.

“We will go to the White House, and we will change America,” Rubio said. “We will change it for the better, and away from this course that Barack Obama has taken us.” (This being a hometown, largely Cuban-American crowd, he also promised Café Bustelo, dominoes and a “presidential humidor” at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.)

It’s a tricky thing, being Rubio these days. Polls show he’s well-liked by Republican voters, and well-positioned to emerge as the establishment’s top alternative to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But a slew of Rubio’s competitors want to be that alternative too. He must fend them off while trying to appeal to Cruz and Trump supporters who have rewarded a far more strident campaign approach.

On Sunday, Rubio tried to do a little of both: take the darker tone of the GOP front-runners while still casting himself as a fresh-faced uniter -- a Republican Obama.

The crowd of a couple hundred people at the Intercontinental Hotel, many of them longtime Rubio friends, hollered far more for the Rubio they know best -- the one preaching about a bright future of “American exceptionalism” -- than the one offering bleak assessments about a dangerous world. But the Rubio message that has worked in purple Florida might not be red enough for this year’s GOP primary.

Rubio called the president a “disaster.” He portrayed illegal immigration as a “national security” problem fundamentally altered by the threat of terrorism. He insisted the America that fought in World War II and the Cold War has been “lost to history.”

“You should be frustrated. Your leaders have lied to you. Washington is out of touch. Neither party has done enough,” Rubio lamented.

“This is hard, but it’s the truth: America is a great nation in decline,” he later warned. “We’re a great nation in decline. Every year for the last seven years, America’s gotten worse, and weaker, and less prosperous.”

Then came the shift, met with rousting applause.

“Here’s the good news: We’re not a weak country. We’re not a weak people. We just have a weak president, and we’re going to get that change in 2016,” Rubio said.

He promised to boost the economy, reduce regulations, overhaul Social Security, balance the budget, repeal Obamacare, promote trade schools and secure the border. “There’s a lot of work to do when I’m president,” he acknowledged. “A lot of work, but we’re going to do it.”

And though he never once named his primary rivals, Rubio made it clear he would have a better shot than Cruz or Trump against the Democratic front-runner.

“That’s why we can’t afford to elect Hillary Clinton as president. Four more years of what we had the last seven years would be a disaster,” he said. “Every day her campaign now attacks me…. Attack, attack attack. I love it, because now I know that they don’t want to run against me. I knew that already – she doesn’t want to run against me, but let me tell you guys something: Please, I cannot wait to run against her!”

[Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2016 11:17am]

    

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