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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

With time running down, Marco Rubio veers right

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who made a brief stop in Minneapolis for a fundraiser at the Minneapolis Club, announces a "Minnesota Leadership Team," during a press conference on Tuesday in Minneapolis.

Elizabeth Flores | Minneapolis Star Tribune via TNS

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who made a brief stop in Minneapolis for a fundraiser at the Minneapolis Club, announces a "Minnesota Leadership Team," during a press conference on Tuesday in Minneapolis.

19

January

Marco Rubio has pitched himself as something for everyone, a conservative but not “scary,” as his campaign manager likes to say.

“I have been saying now for awhile I believe I'm the only one in the primary field that can unite the Republican Party, which is critical, but also attract new voters who haven't voted for us in the past,” Rubio, 44, said Sunday on Face the Nation.

But Rubio’s “next generation” game plan — more optimism than gloom - has been squeezed by rising public support for the acerbic styles of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

With time running down, Rubio is veering sharply right, using tougher rhetoric and going hard at opponents from both sides of the GOP that Rubio hoped to bridge: Cruz and Chris Christie.

Once dismissive of Trump, Rubio has adopted the businessman’s bleak view.

This is Rubio in Iowa in August: "I know some people go around talking about making America great again. America is great."

This is Rubio last week in New Hampshire: “Now people are starting to say, and I agree, ‘I don’t recognize my own country.’ We feel sometimes like outsiders in our own nation … Barack Obama wants to transform America, make it more like other countries. I don’t understand that. If you want live in another country, move to another country. We want to be America. And when I’m president, we’re going to be America again.”

A week before Rubio said in a speech, also in New Hampshire, that “Barack Obama has deliberately weakened America.”

The Florida senator has begun to touch on fears of terrorism, touting his Christmas Eve purchase of a handgun as the last line of defense for his family against ISIS. In the last debate, Rubio declared, “I am convinced if this president could confiscate every gun, he would.”

In the same debate Rubio used ISIS to take a fresh leap away from his support for comprehensive immigration, saying the entire immigration system needs a review. Monday in Iowa, Rubio declined to say whether he still supported a path to citizenship. “It’s not a yes or no answer,” he told a voter.

Terrorists, he says, if not killed by U.S. military strikes, will get a “one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and we are going to find out everything they know.”

Rubio’s also fighting any sense of moderation. His campaign ferociously fought back against a report that noted Rubio once supported exploring cap and trade policies.

Those examples and more indicate how complicated Rubio’s strategy has become in recent weeks. He had planned to stay above the fray (or under the radar) and emerge late after Trump and others fell away.

That has not happened and Rubio hasn’t focused on one early state. His campaign now talks of a national effort but has to worry about a rival gaining momentum. Even South Carolina, which his campaign once viewed as winnable, seems out of reach.

In Iowa, Rubio has sought to connect with evangelicals, who are helping Cruz’s rise. This week Rubio’s campaign began airing an ad in which Rubio espouses his anti-abortion views. He vowed Monday to “keep talking about God” and delivered an impassioned lecture on faith to a man who said he was an atheist.

Rubio is also showing off his fighting side by keeping up attacks on Cruz’s tax plan, which Rubio has told audiences would be at home in Europe. A super PAC supporting Rubio released a new ad Tuesday preying on the “birther” debate about Cruz. "What’s Canadian about Ted Cruz?" a narrator says. "His tax plan. Cruz wants a value added tax, like they have in Canada and European socialist countries."

Throughout, Rubio is trying to maintain he’s the best candidate to take on Hillary Clinton. Young, Hispanic and telegenic, he could present challenges to Clinton. But first Rubio has to get through the primaries.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 12:27pm]

    

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