By Derek Catron
Daytona Beach News-Journal
He may not have any chart-topping hits, but Marco Rubio got the rock star treatment in Daytona Beach on Friday.
The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate got no less than three standing ovations, including a 30-second greeting at the LPGA International restaurant that “honored and a little embarrassed” the former speaker of the Florida House.
No one seemed to mind that he was 15 minutes late, or that his tight schedule would force the Atlantic Federated Republican Women to interrupt their lunch until after his speech. Actually, the timing couldn’t have been better for the club and Rubio, whose political star is burning hotter than summer in the Sunshine State.
Already the darling of conservative Republicans and the tea party movement, just this week Rubio secured the endorsement of former Vice President Dick Cheney. By next week, he’ll know if he’s run Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Aug. 24 Republican primary.
Rubio, a lawyer who served in the Florida House from 2000-2008, made his credentials as the most conservative choice clear.
“This administration and this Congress (are) using the economic downturn as an excuse to redefine the role of government in America and the role of America in the world,” he said, adding that the agenda of progressives like President Barack Obama “will steal from us our exceptionalism, and it will leave our children worse off than ourselves.”
That concern was at the heart of his motivation to run for office, he said.
“There’s no one else running for the U.S. Senate in the state of Florida who’s going to say what I just said to you,” said Rubio, the father of four young children and the son of Cuban immigrants. “I want the next U.S. senator from Florida not just to be a Republican, but to be a Republican who will go to Washington, D.C., stand up to this agenda and offer in its place a clear alternative.”
That kind of talk has won endorsements from Republicans such as former presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, and it’s put Rubio ahead of Crist and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek in most polls.
But following Crist’s veto of a merit-pay plan unpopular with teachers unions and many parents, speculation has increased that Crist might drop out or announce a run as an independent before the April 30 deadline for candidates to qualify. A Quinnipiac University poll last week had an independent Crist running just ahead of Rubio. Fallout from an investigation over Rubio’s use of state party credit cards to pay for personal expenses while serving in the House also could dim the candidate’s luster.
The forecast looked bright Friday, however. Rubio’s platform — including support for Fair Tax, reining in federal spending, sanctions against Iran, reforming Social Security and Medicare — drew enthusiastic applause from the 150 Republicans at the sold-out luncheon.
At 38, Rubio may have been the youngest person in the room, but that didn’t matter to those in his parents’ generation. “I think he’s wonderful,” said Lynda Kroeger, a member of Volusia’s Republican Executive Committee and a mother of a 38-year-old. “I think one day we’ll see him running for president of the United States.”
“I think he was incredible,” club president Patty Teeters said. “He (shares) the ideals of this whole place. We need someone to go up (to Washington) and stand up for us.”
Rubio spoke fast — and without notes — completing what had probably been a 30-minute speech in about 25 minutes. And then he was gone, off to catch a flight back to Miami — if he could get out of the room. The Orlando traffic figured to be a snap compared with the congestion he stirred in a crowd of camera-wielding admirers.
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