Marco Rubio’s second appearance in Beaufort County in under a week was smoother than his first.
The Florida senator avoided any teeth-related mishaps Tuesday after a late arrival to Sun City Hilton Head last week caused by an impromptu dentist visit to repair a broken tooth.
More than 400 people -- a mix of veterans, senior citizens, and college-age students --packed the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Center for the Arts in Beaufort Tuesday morning to hear the Florida senator speak at a short town hall event. The crowd was so large that about 20 people crammed into the two small hallways on either side of the auditorium hoping for a glimpse of the candidate.
“This is an incredible turnout,” he joked. “I know the fire marshal isn’t exactly happy with it, so please no smoking.”
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Here are five takeaways from Rubio’s appearance:
1. Sees 2016 as a “pivotal” election
Rubio opened with one of his main talking points throughout the primary cycle — how he believes the 2016 election is a major turning point in American history. He talked about the radical changes affecting the U.S. already, saying the nation’s economy had gone through an Industrial Revolution-level change every few years over the past decade and the military was shrinking to sizes not seen since World War II.
In short, Rubio said, the 2016 election was a “choice about the identity of the country.”
“There’s a sense across the political spectrum that something is wrong with the country,” he said.
Rubio also repeated his disdain for Barack Obama’s presidency, saying again how he believed Obama was purposefully destroying the country -- a line he repeated three times at a debate in New Hampshire, drawing loud criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“We’re trying to recover from the worst president in 35 years,” Rubio said of the upcoming election.
2. Quiet on opposing candidates
Rubio was critical of his fellow candidates Tuesday but refrained from taking too many shots. Of Donald Trump, who he criticized for vulgarity and a lack of foreign policy experience at a town hall in Sun City last week, Rubio simply said he and the New York businessman had “behavioral differences.”
Rubio also criticized Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, while he talked about defense spending. Rubio, who said he aims to increase military spending if elected, said Cruz has only voted on one federal budget while in Congress — one that cut military spending.
3. Wants a much larger military
Most of Rubio’s town hall was focused on the military and veterans issues. Rubio said he wanted a much larger military to wage a “real” War on Terror, pointing to updated submarines, fighter jets and bombers as critical needs for the armed services branches. He also said the U.S. needed a newer ballistic missile defense system to defend against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who Rubio called a “lunatic.”
Instead of cuts to military spending, Rubio said he’d look to increase their budget and cut wasteful spending on defense projects that don’t fully materialize.
Rubio also brought up a recent headline about how calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide prevention hotline went to voicemail, saying it made his “skin crawl.” The senator said he would bring accountability back to the VA and come down on executives when issues arise.
4. Faith is a big factor
Rubio referenced his faith several times during the town hall Tuesday morning, receiving by far the loudest ovation from the audience after answering a question with how his faith guides him. He called the U.S. the most generous country in the world, generous because of citizens who follow “Judeo-Christian values.”
“It’s not because of the 60 percent tax write-off by the IRS,” he said.
Earlier in his speech, he brought up religious freedom and abortion rights, saying he would protect a person’s right “to live out the teachings of their faith” and would proudly say “all human life is worth living,” which drew wide applause.
5. Has Tim Scott’s support
Sen. Tim Scott introduced Rubio to much fanfare at USCB’s Center for the Arts, continuing a string of appearances to stump for his senate colleague. The South Carolina senator said none of the Republican candidates could rival Rubio’s experience and felt Rubio would be the best commander-in-chief from day one.
“Marco Rubio head and shoulders above the rest,” Scott said. “But any candidate is better than Bernie Sanders.”
Scott and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy have both endorsed Rubio for the Republican nominee, while Sen. Lindsey Graham has voiced his support for Jeb Bush in stops around South Carolina over the last week.