Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio fired up supporters Friday with promises to make the nation’s economy and military stronger.
Rubio’s comments came at an appearance with political allies — Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg — on the eve of Saturday’s S.C. Republican presidential primary.
The group toured the state Friday, trying to drum up enthusiasm in hopes of propelling Rubio to a strong showing Saturday.
The U.S. senator from Florida portrayed himself as someone who understands middle-class struggles and the need to combat terrorism overseas.
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The race for the White House is “truly a referendum on our identity,” Rubio told more than 300 supporters during a campaign rally at a downtown Columbia hotel. “What kind of country will America be in the 21st Century?”
Families face increasing financial challenges that threaten to make this “the first generation to leave America worse off ,” he said, pledging to seek unspecified tax cuts and reduce federal rules affecting job creation.
Changes also need to be made to end “stifling” debt that students acquire while attending college, he said.
The military also needs “a Reagan-style rebuild” to stamp out terrorism, he said.
Rubio took no swings at the other five GOP contenders in the race, instead portraying the Democratic Party as “being taken over by radical left-wing elements.”
Keeping Democrats in the White House means “America will remain a great nation in decline,” he said.
Later Friday, however, Rubio’s campaign warned voters to beware of last-minute tactics designed to drive them to other candidates.
“We strongly urge all South Carolina Republicans to beware of suspicious news reports, emails and social media posts during tomorrow’s voting,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said.
Some of the GOP candidates have complained U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign inaccurately portrayed Ben Carson as withdrawing from Iowa’s caucuses as those meetings were getting underway.
Meanwhile, Rubio pledged to reduce partisan bickering in Congress. “I will never pit people against each other to win an election.”
Rubio was welcomed at the rally by long-time friend Frank Martin, the head coach of the University of South Carolina men’s basketball team.
“We want to do for America what your governor and your Legislature has done for South Carolina,” Rubio said, adding after a pause “except tomorrow in basketball.”
USC plays the University of Florida while voting is underway Saturday.
Rubio’s comments cemented the support of Dave Day, a retired businessman who lives in Northeast Richland.
“He has the temperament for what we need going forward,” Day said of Rubio. “He conveys a genuine optimism.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483