If U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is feeling any panic or even urgency at the prospect of losing his home state in next week’s Florida primary, he wasn’t letting on in Sanford Monday night.
In a fly-in appearance at a hangar rally at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport, Rubio stayed with his basics: attacking President Barack Obama and Democrats, touting conservatism as the key to saving America, and retelling his personal story as the son of poor but hard-working immigrants.
He did so as he has done in countless stump speeches since he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. And he did so, excepting a few vague references, that conservatism is not about scaring or angering people, or that Republicans must nominate someone “who can win in November,” without ever acknowledging the big elephant in the election, Donald Trump.
“If we nominate someone that a third of our party hates, we lose. If we nominate someone that people won’t vote for, we lose,” he said.
“Conservatism at its core is about optimism, because we know if we do what needs to be done, America’s greatest days always lie ahead,” Rubio declared to perhaps 1,000 supporters.
Yet Rubio did work with anger and fear with the crowd, getting the loudest and most enthusiastic responses when he berated Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, accusing them of damaging and potentially ruining America.
“We cannot lose this election because all these Obama policies will become the law of the land,” Rubio warned. “If she (Clinton) wins, Justice Scalia will not be replaced by someone like Justice (Antonin) Scalia. That’s how high the stakes are.”
Although he ignored it Monday, Rubio’s plight is evident. He trails in the polls in the home state he has been aiming to for weeks. In three rallies at modest-sized venues this week in Florida — the place his campaign slogan calls “Rubio Country” — he has drawn less than packed crowds. Monday night’s rally did not fill a modest-sized hangar.
Trump, meanwhile, packed 10,000 rabid supporters into the University of Central Florida basketball arena Saturday.
Rubio, on the other hand, needed to be reminded that he was on home turf at UCF. In a pause mid-speech, perhaps seeking to tell everyone he was Florida’s favorite son, he called out his support for the University of Florida Gators, then for safety sake added Florida State and several other schools. “For the next eight days, I’m for everybody!” he said.
But he forgot to mention UCF.
“What about UCF?” someone shouted.
“Oh! UCF!” he replied. “Yes! Yes!”