Marco Rubio Energizes Republicans At Annual Prescott Bush Dinner
June 5, 2015
STAMFORD — Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio energized the audience of more than 800 at the party's biggest fundraiser Thursday night, leading many to say he can defeat Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.
Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, received a standing ovation after a 23-minute keynote speech at the 37th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner, the marquee fundraising event for state Republicans.
"The time has come for a new generation of leaders," Rubio told the sold-out crowd. "We are just one election away from a néw American century. That"s why I'm running for president."
Citing his humble roots, Rubio told the audience in a large hotel ballroom that his father worked for decades at a portable bar "in the back of a room like this so one day I could stand before you on an evening like this."
Without mentioning Clinton by name, he took jabs at the Democratic presidential front-runner.
"I don't have a family foundation that raised over $2 billion from Wall Street and foreign interests," Rubio said. "The biggest debt I have is to America."
After his speech, Rubio shook hands with those on the dais, including former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, and left the ballroom immediately. He had to catch a plane in 90 minutes for a campaign flight.
Rubio has emphasized his youth and energy in the race against Clinton, 67.
"The truth is I'm 44 years old, but I feel like I'm 45," Rubio said as the crowd laughed.
Contributors paid as much as $5,000 per person for a VIP reception, photo and seating near Rubio. Dinner tickets were $250 per person at the Crowne Plaza hotel on Summer Street, the same site where George H. W. Bush had been the keynote speaker more than 20 years ago. The dinner is named for George H.W. Bush's father, Prescott Bush, a U.S. senator from Greenwich.
Rubio said that as president he would protect the rights of gun owners, remove the marriage penalty in the federal tax code, end cuts to the American military and "help the nation of Israel prosper as a Jewish state."
Former Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said he wants Rubio as the vice presidential candidate in a crowded Republican presidential field. At this early stage, Healy is supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has gained national attention for clashing with unions in his home state and winning three elections in four years.
"Marco Rubio, like Walker, represents not only the future of the party, but of the country,'' Healy said. "Rubio has such great skills in communicating the true nature of the country. ... He speaks without notes, extemporaneously and with great timing and conviction.''
Healy, who recruited keynote speakers during his years as party chairman, said, "I think it's a great catch for the party to have Rubio."
Democrats around the country have been quoted as saying that Rubio could be a tough match for Clinton because of his compelling personal story, energy and youth.
Longtime Hartford Democratic strategist Matthew Hennessy said it is still unclear whether Rubio can withstand the national media spotlight.
"From a Democratic perspective, the challenge that Rubio presents is he has this immigrant background story," Hennessy said Thursday. "He is an attractive Latino candidate for a party that has alienated the vast majority of Latinos in this country. That is an important constituency for the Democrats. ... He has been demonstrating some real excitement for the Republican Party. The Republican bench is usually older, white men who don't appeal to a younger age group."
Hennessy cited questions raised about Rubio's ties to 82-year-old Florida billionaire Norman Braman, who has helped his political career with major campaign contributions and hired Rubio's wife at his charitable foundation. Rubio, who was once hired by Braman as a lawyer, has said that Braman is a father figure and there are no conflicts of interest.
"The question is whether he can withstand scrutiny in the Republican primary," Hennessy said. "He does have this background that needs to be fleshed out.''
Also, the candidates he will be battling are conservative Republicans who are known as reliable in primaries. "Does [U.S. Sen.] Ted Cruz force Rubio further right than he wants to go?'' Hennessy asked.
In a conference call with reporters before Rubio's speech, Democratic State Chairman Nick Balletto described Rubio as "an extreme Republican" who opposes raising the minimum wage, wants to repeal Obamacare and favors cutting taxes for the rich.