DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio thinks he has struck the perfect balance between anger and optimism needed to win over the outraged and inspire potential conservatives to turn out and vote.
In his closing argument to Iowans ahead of Monday night’s leadoff caucus, Rubio is looking to set himself apart from his more traditional rivals and the fiery outsiders vying for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Now, our time has come,” Rubio said in Des Moines last week. “If we do what needs to be done…history will say we lived in the early years of this new century, a time of great uncertainty. But like all the generations before us, we did our part, we rose up to confront our challenges.”
Should Rubio’s efforts fall short, it could be in part because he’s misjudged the depth of anger among voters in both political parties.
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If he succeeds, it could be because he will have been able to convert that frustration into the inspiration as a son of immigrants projecting faith in the U.S. as a land of opportunity.
“We will turn this nation around and we will leave for our children what our parents left for us — the single greatest nation in the history of all mankind,” Rubio told a crowd at the Des Moines banquet hall, igniting applause.
Rubio’s call to action was catching on with many Iowa Republicans as the junior senator from Florida campaigned across the state in the lead-up to the Feb. 1 caucus.
“I was so impressed with how eloquently he identified as a regular person,” said Jim Diehl of Des Moines, a Rubio supporter, said after an event in nearby West Des Moines. “He understands.”
But some are proving to be a harder sell.
Dubuque resident Jo Lynn Bentz, waffling between Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said the message makes her “feel good,” but said it’s “too rehearsed.”
At the heart of Rubio’s campaign pitch is his family’s exodus from Cuba to Florida in the 1950s and his working class upbringing. The 44-year-old husband and father notes he isn’t the son of a wealthy or a politically connected family, as are some of his rivals.
But Rubio, a leader in the Florida legislature before becoming a U.S. Senator in 2010, conveys a sense of duty to the nation that he says “changed the history” of his family.
That history also fuels the contempt he expresses for the current economy politics, but especially for the current foreign policies under President Barack Obama’s administration, and by proxy, those of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state.
“No one who lies to the families of those who have given their lives in the service of our country can ever be commander in chief of the United States,” Rubio roars at every campaign stop, referring to ongoing condemnation that Clinton didn’t do enough to prevent the deaths of four Americans in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rubio also expresses frustration with politics in Washington, despite the seat he holds in the Senate. In Oskaloosa Tuesday, Rubio indignantly told about 100 supporters: “You’re frustrated with Washington? I have to work with these people.”
During an Associated Press interview in Iowa Friday, Rubio embraced the anger as enough to inspire action. “It’s righteous anger,” he said.
But the crux of his argument is about urgency.
“If we get this election wrong, we may not be able to turn back,” Rubio said in conservative Sioux Center this month. “It may be too late.”
Senior Rubio adviser Todd Harris zeros in on Rubio’s contention that Obama’s policies will only continue under Clinton, unless younger conservatives unite behind him.
“Marco is creating a sense of urgency in a way that doesn’t scare people, but that inspires them,” said senior Rubio aide and speech consultant Todd Harris. “It’s a rallying cry.”
In Dubuque on Friday, more than 500 people in an iconic hotel ballroom stood and applauded as he called upon them to help “be the authors of the greatest chapter in the amazing story of our country.”
Attending the same event, Jackie Koontz described herself as “hopeful” and “almost tearful.”
Koontz, daughter of an Iowa farm family, said the greatest gift her parents gave her was the chance to go to college to become a registered nurse. Inspired by Rubio’s message about the American dream, Koontz said she plans to caucus for the young senator come Monday.
“My greatest wish for my children is exactly what he’s talking about,” she said.