Rubio competes to unite GOP after debate gains
Iowans taking to hawkish approach
DAVENPORT, IOWA | Sen. Marco Rubio is emerging as the GOP candidate most likely to unite the various wings of the Republican presidential primary electorate, and that broad appeal was on display when he made a campaign stop last week at a popular sports bar and restaurant.
Some of the 300 people crowded into the Jersey Grille to hear Mr. Rubio on the stump were looking for a family values candidate, some wanted a strident fiscal conservative and yet others hoped for a get-tough military leader.
Mr. Rubio didn’t disappoint any of them.
Much as he did in a sturdy debate performance the previous evening in Milwaukee, the Florida Republican delivered a message that brought together the party’s three pillars, pledging reverence to family values, vowing to cut taxes and saying the military needs an injection of funding to preserve its role as the most powerful military force in the world.
He bemoaned that without these remedies the country risked losing sight of the America dream.
“You also feel it in our society, where a growing number of people feel out of place in their own country, because those of us who hold traditional values are stigmatized as haters and bigots,” he told the crowd. “The family, the most important institution in society — without strong families, nothing else matters — and the family is under duress.”
The diversity of the Republicans in the room was reflected by their choices in previous caucuses, which ranged form Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich to former Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucus in 2012 but has struggled to gain traction for his run this year.
“He’s family-oriented,” said Sarah Teel, 36, who caucused last time for Mr. Santorum, an outspoken advocate for faith and family.
She said she was leaning toward supporting Mr. Rubio when the state hold’s the country’s first nominating contest Feb. 1., though she is still looking at Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a strong conservative who is increasingly wooing evangelical voters.
After the speech, Ben Van Raalte, 58, a physician from nearby Bettendorf, said he planned to caucus for Mr. Rubio because he was going to tackle the federal debt with reforms to Social Security and Medicare, including raising the retirement age and means-testing benefits.
“I’m glad he didn’t get hung up on the social issues,” he said. “I like that he spoke more in ideas than in sound bites. We’ve got too many running on sound bites.”
Maggie Brown, 56, a contracting specialist for the federal government, called Mr. Rubio a “principled conservative.”
“I like that,” she said. “I’m all for military spending. That’s the federal government’s job.”
Mr. Rubio’s ability to unite the Republican Party’s core constituencies has helped place him firmly in the top tier of candidates in a crowded field. Currently, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz are best positioned to burst into the lead should front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson falter.
In recent polls Mr. Rubio has been vying for third place with Mr. Cruz, with the two trailing about 10 points behind Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson.
GOP rivals have attempted to drive a wedge between Mr. Rubio and the party’s conservative base by denouncing his policies, especially his proposals to increase spending, as “not conservative.”
At the debate in Milwaukee, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky leveled the charge and pointed to Mr. Rubio’s proposal to boost military spending and expand the earnedincome tax credit for low-income families, which is estimated to cost $1 trillion over 10 years.
“Add that to Marco’s plan for $1 trillion in new military spending and you get something that looks to me not very conservative,” said Mr. Paul, whose political views skew libertarian.
Mr. Rubio defended the tax credit as an investment in families.
“If you invest that money in a piece of equipment, if you invest that money in a business, you get to write it off your taxes, but if you invest it in your children, in the future of America and strengthening your family, we are not going to recognize that in our tax code,” he said.
“Nevertheless, it is not very conservative, Marco,” responded Mr. Paul.
Mr. Rubio then stressed the need to rebuild the military. “I know that Rand is a committed isolationist; I am not,” he said.
The exchange scored points for both candidates with their supporters. Paul campaign officials said they saw an immediate uptick in online contributions, likely flowing from budget hawks and the anti-war crowd.
For Mr. Rubio, the performance resonated with family values and pro-military voters.
At the sports bar Mr. Rubio’s fans were not hung up on the cost of the proposed child tax credit.
“He’s conservative enough,” said Bill Doeckel, 79, who backed Mitt Romney in 2012.
“You got to shake them down. They’ve all got pluses and minuses,” he said. “I agree with Rubio most.”
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a message to a crowd in Davenport, Iowa, that pledged reverence to family values, a vow to cut taxes and saying that the U.S. military needs an injection of funding to preserve its role in the world.