Rubio attacks Democrats in appeal to Michigan voters

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Kentwood — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio pitched himself at a campaign rally Tuesday night in west Michigan as the presidential candidate who can unite the Republican Party and carry Michigan in the general election for the first time in a generation.

Rubio cautioned a crowd of nearly 2,000 gathered at a suburban Grand Rapids automotive supplier warehouse against casting a vote in Michigan’s March 8 primary in anger — something GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has tapped into in early voting states with success.

“This election cannot be just about making a point. I know you’re angry and frustrated. You should be,” Rubio said at a rally in a Lacks Enterprises warehouse. “Today we are led by the most selfish leaders in both parties in the history of the United States.”

Rubio said Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington “don’t care about” the nation’s $19 trillion in debt.

“They have no plan to solve it, they don’t care,” he said. “They’re selfish. All they care about is getting re-elected.”

But the Florida senator made no direct contrasts of himself versus the remaining candidates seeking the GOP presidential nomination — Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Rubio said Democratic attacks on him are evidence the other party fears him more than his GOP primary opponents because he can appeal to independents and Democrats.

“Hillary Clinton does not want to run against me, but I cannot wait to run against her,” said Rubio, whose trip to the Grand Rapids area was his third trip to Michigan this election cycle.

Instead of drawing contrasts with his opponents, Rubio tailored his message to what happens if Republicans lose the general election and a Democrat continues the executive orders, judicial appointments and military budget priorities of outgoing President Barack Obama.

“If we lose this election, all of the damage Barack Obama has done to America becomes permanent,” Rubio said.

Rubio trailed Cruz and Trump in a Feb. 14-16 statewide poll of 600 likely Republican primary voters commissioned by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV.

Trump led in that poll with 25 percent support, followed by Cruz at 15 percent, Rubio at 12 percent and Kasich at 10.5 percent.

Tony Licari, 63, of Ava left Rubio’s rally at Lacks Enterprises — where he works as an engineer — impressed by the senator focusing on what he’ll do to change the country.

“I think he’ll be a great replacement for that goddarn Obama,” Licari said. “This is what we need.”

Before the rally, some Republican voters said they believe Rubio is the most electable GOP candidate.

“I think he’s our best shot at beating Hillary,” said Ryan Ranschaert, a 43-year-old mechanical engineer from Grand Rapids.

Rhonda Slagter, a 51-year-old real estate agent from Caledonia, said she finds Rubio to display more honesty and integrity than Trump.

“I say rudeness is a sign of weakness,” Slagter said of Trump. “Do you really want a president who is rude?”