LAS VEGAS — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., kicked off his first presidential campaign visit to the key early nominating state of Nevada on Thursday with a promise: You're going to be seeing a lot of me.
After touring the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop with Rick Harrison, star of the TV show Pawn Stars, Rubio told reporters he plans to be back "quite often" as he sought to localize his "New American Century" campaign theme.
"Nevada is a state that in many ways embodies some of the challenges we have in the 21st century," Rubio said.
Rubio is in the midst of a two-day swing through a battleground he once called home. Among the four early states, Nevada is perhaps the best test case for Rubio's emerging strategy to present himself as a new kind of Republican.
"Nevada — especially Las Vegas — is much more representative of the rest of the country than Iowa and New Hampshire in many different ways," said longtime Nevada political expert Jon Ralston. "Las Vegas is a melting pot, a strong union town in a right-to-work state. It has a burgeoning Asian and Hispanic population."
Nevada is also the kind of purple state that Republicans desperately want to contest in 2016, but which they have struggled with in recent elections. Many see Rubio as the best hope of turning the tide in that terrain. At the same time, he faces challenges, including his decision to disavow comprehensive immigration reform that he once championed.
Rubio's youth — he turned 44 on Thursday — and his Cuban-American heritage, plus his talent for public speaking, stand out in a mostly older, white Republican Party that has been accused of being tone deaf to centrist and left-leaning voters.