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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio tests presidential run in New Hampshire

NEW CASTLE, N.H. — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tore into a dinner roll, clapping politely between determined bites as a man at the podium introduced political candidates in the room. He was hungry after a day of fundraising and interviews with local reporters.

But when the chicken and mashed potatoes arrived, the meal sat untouched, growing cold in the dimly lit ballroom of the Wentworth by the Sea hotel.

Rubio was doing the New Hampshire thing, working the room in a blur of handshakes, hellos and small talk. He posed for cellphone photos and signed autographs. Then he took the stage for a 37-minute speech that ended with a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd of more than 300 Republicans.

Make no mistake, Rubio is testing a run for president.

The Florida Republican's visit Friday to the nation's first primary state underscored eagerness to plant his flag amid an emerging field of possible GOP contenders in 2016. A year ago, he was embroiled in a divisive debate over immigration, imperiled by a conservative base that saw him as an amnesty-backing traitor.

Rubio, who turns 43 later this month, may just talk his way back into contention.

"Every time I speak at events like this and I see bartenders standing behind a rollaway bar, I'm reminded of my father because that's what he did for a living," he said. "He worked all those years at events like this so one day his children could be sitting at one of these tables or even standing at the podium like this."

The audience, some misty-eyed, burst into applause as the immigrant son went on about the American Dream and fears of it slipping away for millions of people. He outlined prescriptions for problems, interrupting at times for jokes like one about a guy who showed up in a Yankees cap — "Don't ever say we're not a big tent but notice he's sitting in the corner" — and jabbing at Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

Full story here.

[Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2014 8:15pm]

    

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