Rubio tries broad approach in early states
With no clear base of support, he lags behind Bush and Walker in polls
cedar rapids, iowa — Lunch was about to be served, and Marco Rubio was working the room — hard. He mocked surprise that one table’s cookies were left untouched. He posed for a photo and teased, “I even held my stomach in!”
This is not considered Rubio territory, but he is campaigning with urgency in Iowa anyway. He spent Tuesday through Thursday hopscotching from happy hour to cookout tomeet-and-greet, andhe plans to return for more of the same this week.
He doesn’t have much of a choice. It has been nearly three months since Rubio launched his presidential campaign amid lofty expectations from many Republicans, who view the Cuban American senator from Florida as the party’s best hope for a rapidly changing electorate.
But polls show he hasn’t made a dent in the leads enjoyed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida governor Jeb Bush in the first four primary states. Bush, meanwhile, just announced a massive $114 million fundraising haul, while Walker is set to officially kick off his campaign Monday.
So Rubio has embarked on a strategy to compete in each of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The hope is to strike it big in at least one by cobbling together a diverse coalition of Republican voters. It is perhaps the best option for a contender who, unlike Bush and Walker, has neither an obvious path to the nomination nor a clearly defined base of support.
After focusing heavily on fundraising leading up to the June 30 quarterly deadline, Rubio is forging a bigger presence on the campaign trail. His swing through Iowa was his most extensive visit here since launching his bid in April. He also traveled to Nevada on Friday for a two-day visit, and his campaign has reserved TV advertising time in all four of the early states.
Central to Rubio’s pitch is an emphasis on his youthfulness and an optimistic, if imprecise, vision of the future. At 44, Rubio is among the youngest candidates.
“Quite frankly, I’m the only one running up to now that is running on this message that the future is now. It is here. And we cannot be left behind by it,” he said at a Wednesday morning stop in Urbandale where a packed dining room of Republicans tucked into pancakes and sipped coffee.
One of them was Sharon Clearman, 72, of Johnston, Iowa. Rubio impressed her, but she also likes Walker. “He did a big thing,” Clearman said.
Her reference was to Walker’s moves to curtail the power of public unions. It made him a national conservative icon and won him deep loyalty from activists.
Rubio does not have any political accomplishments of similar magnitude. Asked to name his signature achievements in government after lunch at the Cedar Rapids Country Club, he responded with a mixed list: the policy blueprint he wrote as a state lawmaker; and legislation he pushed in the U.S. Senate to support girls in developing countries and hold Veterans Affairs accountable.
Those who have seen Rubio speak have noticed his emphasis on the future.
“Senator Rubio is just more overt saying, ‘I’m going to take you to the future, and then look at my record if you don’t believe I’ve done that,’ ” Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said, “whereas [Ted] Cruz and Walker are saying, ‘Look atmy record, I’ll take you to the future.’ ”
If Rubio is suffering from a résumé deficit compared to Walker, he suffers from a major resource deficit against Bush, who is leading in New Hampshire. A pair of outside groups backing Rubio have raised about $32 million, less than a third of the amount raised by a super PAC allied with Bush. Rubio’s campaign has not yet released its total.
Rubio’s team says it is playing a long game. The plan is to introduce him to as many voters as possible because of his talent as a communicator. If other candidates stumble, supporters believe Rubio would be poised to move up.
Rubio’s attempt to stay in the mix for the long haul is evident in his cautious rhetoric. Last week, for example, he declined to say whether he backs Congress giving Puerto Rico the ability to file for bankruptcy like municipalities in the states.
Meanwhile, Rubio’s reliance on his youth and freshness sometimes prompts a comparison considered unflattering in Republican circles.
“You are an extremely articulate, energetic, bright, young firstterm senator. That reminds me of somebody eight years ago,” one man told him at the Urbandale breakfast. The crowd chuckled, instantly recognizing the reference to President Obama.
Rubio argued forcefully that Obama was a “backbencher” in the Illinois legislature while he was the Florida House speaker. Rubio also noted that he has served longer in the U.S. Senate than Obama had when he launched his White House bid.
The policy differences between Rubio and many of his Republican competitors are harder to spot. Rubio is running as a staunch military hawk, like most of his opponents. On immigration — which is again consuming the party as an issue— Rubio has backed away from support for comprehensive reform he once backed in the Senate.
With so many GOP candidates, it has become nearly impossible for Rubio, or anyone else, to monopolize a certain position. And that makes it difficult for him to separate himself from the pack.
“I’ve got the field narrowed from15 to may be six or seven,” said Patrick Williams, 48, a ninthgrade teacher from West Des Moines.
Rubio is one of them.
Marco Rubio at a fundraiser Tuesday for Iowa Rep. ChrisHagenow.