Marco Rubio came to South Carolina this week hoping to win over the kind of conservative hardliners who turned on him last year as the Senate immigration reform bill he sponsored hit a roadblock in the Republican-controlled House.
By the time Rubio addressed a massive GOP fundraiser here on Monday evening, it wasn't his right flank he had to worry about.
The Florida senator and likely presidential candidate was the headline speaker at a "Faith and Freedom" barbecue fundraiser for Rep. Jeff Duncan, the tea party-backed congressman who represents what many Republicans consider the most conservative House district in the state.
After a succession of speeches from South Carolina Republican notables like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley, Rubio took the stage in Anderson to applause, but was quickly interrupted by a group of protestors -- self-identified DREAMers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as minors -- who loudly heckled the senator for abandoning last year's sweeping immigration package when it was met with harsh resistance on the right.
For an ambitious Republican looking to prove his conservative bona fides and rub out the stain of working with Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, the interruption was something of a gift. A plugged-in Republican operative turned to a reporter and observed dryly, "I couldn't think of a better way to make Rubio look good in South Carolina."
The audience of nearly 1,200 conservatives jeered the protestors as Rubio waited for them to be escorted out of the Anderson Civic Center, scolding them in the process.
"We are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws," Rubio said. "You're doing harm to your own cause because you don't have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States."
The crowd cheered him on. One elderly audience member shoved a protester as he weaved his way through the tables. Another, 73-year old Army veteran Turk Culberson, angrily stalked them out of the building, clutching his cane as if it were a baseball bat.