Sept. 29– THE VILLAGES — The torch has been passed to a new generation of recipients of Donald Trump’s insults.
Sen. Marco Rubio still doesn’t come close to political outsiders Trump or Ben Carson in Republican presidential polls. But the 44-year-old Rubio has become a leading recipient of Trump’s barbs in recent weeks, replacing “low-energy” Jeb Bush, 62, as a prime Trumpian target. Rubio has also moved ahead of Bush and other elected officials in some recent polls, including one survey of Florida voters last week.
After trading smack talk with Trump on Monday morning — Rubio told NPR he doesn’t want to be part of the Trump “freak show” while Trump called Rubio a “lightweight” — Rubio didn’t allude to Trump when he visited in The Villages, the Central Floridaretiree haven and Republican stronghold.
Instead, Rubio appealed to the frustration many Republican primary voters feel toward both parties. And he gently, but clearly, contrasted himself to older candidates who are part of political dynasties: Bush and 67-year-old Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.
After calling for a “new generation of leaders” to address the challenges of a “new century,” Rubio said: “The time to act is now. We cannot wait another four years. And we cannot simply promote the next person in line or the most familiar name.”
Rubio is finishing his first term in the U.S. Senate after serving nine years in the Florida Legislature. But he said politicians are out of touch with ordinary Americans and their struggles.
“I wish I could tell you that it’s just Democrats. It’s Republicans, too. There’s a real disconnect,” Rubio said.
“This is not simply a choice between Republicans or Democrats. It’s not a choice between conservatives and liberals alone. This election is a generational choice about our identity, about what kind of country we want to be,” Rubio said.
“We must turn the page. The time has come for both the Republican Party and the United States of America to elect a new generation of leaders with ideas relevant to the times in which we live, applying the principles that work,” Rubio said.
Rubio made his appeal to about 400 retirees in the Eisenhower Recreation Center at The Villages. A few hundred more people listened to Rubio’s remarks in overflow rooms at the rec center. Some were die-hard Rubio fans but others said they haven’t settled on a candidate in the crowded Republican field.
John Battista, a vice president of a tea party group in The Villages, said before Rubio’s speech that he’s “impressed” by the senator, but “there are some unknowns about him.”
Trump enjoys strong tea party support in national polls, and Battista said the part-time Palm Beacher is “saying what everybody wants to hear and all the politicians are afraid to say. I’m not convinced yet.”
Joan Todd said she’s most interested in Rubio and Carson, while Trump is “a little bit over the top.” Asked about Bush, she said, “he might be a very nice man but I think it’s time for the Bush family, the Clinton family to go aside.”
A national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday showed Trump and retired neurosurgeon Carson, a West Palm Beach resident, in a virtual tie for the lead among Republicans with 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Rubio and another outsider, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, were tied for third at 11 percent apiece. Bush was in fifth place at 7 percent — half the level of support he had in a July poll by the same outlet.
A Florida Atlantic University poll released last week found Trump leading Florida with 31.5 percent, while Rubio had 19.2 percent and Bush 11.3 percent.
After taking a shot at Trump earlier in the day, Rubio declined to engage further when asked about Trump by reporters after his remarks in The Villages.
“From time to time we’ll respond to something that needs to be answered, but by and large I’m focused on America. This election’s about America. It’s about America’s future, not about any of the individuals running,” Rubio said.
Asked about Bush, Rubio offered praise — but again brought up the generational contrast.
“Jeb is my friend. We’ve always helped each other. I’m not running against anyone. I have tremendous respect for him as a person and what he did for Florida as a governor. I’ve said that repeatedly,” Rubio said. “I’m not running against anyone for president. I’m running for president because I honestly believe our party and our country needs to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership with new ideas to guide us toward the 21st century.”
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