WASHINGTON -- As speculation over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joining the GOP presidential ticket heats up going into summer, a string of upcoming public appearances has political onlookers opining about the senator's attempts to build his brand for November.
November 2016, that is.
Speaking to a group of influential Iowa business people visiting Capitol Hill Thursday, Rubio delievered a passionate speech that engaged the audience in a way many of the Republicans campaigning in the Hawkeye State last fall never could.
And next Saturday, the junior senator from the Sunshine State will travel to speak at another important early voting state -- the Silver Elephant Dinner in Columbia, SC.
In an address to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Rubio gave a speech heavy on themes of American exceptionalism and the story of his parent's coming from Cuba to America in search of a better life.
"The American example is powerful, and as I stand before you today there’s still nothing to replace it. If America declines, there’s no one to take our place," said Rubio. "There’s no other country on this planet prepared to be what we once were. If we decline, who rises?"
While Rubio's speech was largely absent of the Iowa pandering that was common place for GOP candidates in the run up to the caucus, the speech has many of the traits of those given by Republicans on the trail. He was, however, introduced by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who addressed the topic that has brought the most attention of late to the freshman senator.
"Somebody might ask him whether or not he's going to run for vice president, I don't know what the answer is, but let me tell you this, let me tell you what I know about Sen. Rubio," said Grassley. "If he decides a call, it's not going to be based upon the Republican candidate for president making that call. It's not going to be based on doing something good for the Republican party. I know Sen. Rubio that he's only going to do it because America calls."
Rubio has repeatedly rebuffed the VP talk, saying he's focused on his job as a senator. And in the coming months he hopes to introduce an alternative to the DREAM Act -- an immigration reform bill that failed to get bipartisan support.
When asked by an Iowan about immigration reform, Rubio indicated that election year politics could be a road block for his forthcoming reputation.
"The White House has been intending to use this issue as a wedge issue in the election. And so they have actively met with many of the kids, advocates, who have pushed for the DREAM Act, and asked them not to work with us," said the Cuban American. "So far that hasn't worked."
However, he also acknowledged the hurdles coming from members of his own party, who feel the top priority of immigration reform needs to be securing the border above all else.
As a high profile Hispanic Republican, Rubio has found himself at the top of many VP short lists. Along with speaking to influential Iowa and South Carolina groups, he also has a book coming out in June.
And two weeks ago he gave a foreign policy address at a Washington think tank, which drew headlines when he had to pause to find the final page of his speech.
"You can just imagine after years of making teleprompter jokes, the critics were merciless. But I really needed that page because it had a quote on it. But today I wanted to give you something meaningful but I didn't want to have that problem, so I brought a one-page speech," he joked.