FRANKLIN, Tennessee — A huge crowd of 5,000 welcomed Sen. Marco Rubio to his campaign rally here Sunday afternoon, where his 30-minute speech made no mention of the frontrunner, Donald Trump, who beat him by ten points in the South Carolina primary.
He also made no mention of third-place South Carolina finisher, Sen. Ted Cruz.
Instead, after criticizing Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rubio called for unity in the Republican party and the nation. “Each generation has faced its own challenge [in America]. Now our moment has come. Now our time has arrived,” the 44-year-old Rubio declared.
Tennessee is one of several southern states, including Alabama, Georgia, and Texas, which will be holding Presidential preference primaries on Tuesday, March 1, the “SEC Primary” day. Rubio spoke one day after his surprising second place finish in the South Carolina GOP presidential primary.
After noting that it was the biggest crowd in his campaign to date, Rubio said Clinton was unqualified to sit in the Oval Office, then highlighted a positive theme of inclusiveness and “generational transformation” to the audience that stood outside the Embassy Suites Hotel in this affluent suburb of Nashville.
“Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be President of the United States,” he said. “She took intelligence information, sensitive information, and she put it on her email server because she believed that she is above the law.”
“I am convinced that her plan was she was going to win an election and then she would pardon herself,” Rubio said, to laughter from the crowd.
“No one is above the law. That irresponsible behavior disqaulifies her from being President,” Rubio added.
“But she is also disqualified from being Commander-in-Chief,” he continued, adding:
Because on the eleventh of September in the year 2012, four Americans lost their lives in the service of our country in Benghazi. And she know that they lost their lives because of a terrorist attack. And yet, when she spoke to the families of those four Americans, she lied to them.
Rubio said that Clinton told the families, and the country, the attack was caused by “a video,” which she knew not to be true. “I believe that anyone who lies to the families of Americans who lost their lives in the service our country can never be Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America,” Rubio told the crowd, to thunderous applause.
Rubio also took a few swipes at the other Democratic candidate for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“We cannot afford do get this election wrong,” the junior senator from Florida told the crowd.
“If Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton were to win this election, we will have gotten this election terribly wrong, because Bernie Sanders is a Socialist,” he continued.
“Usually, when you say that about someone in politics is a Socialist, they deny it. Bernie Sanders says it in his commercials!” Rubio quipped to waves of laughter from the crowd.
“I don’t understand why you would be a Socialist and run for office in America. There are dozens of countries in the world that are Socialist countries,” Rubio continued.
“If you want to live in a Socialist country, you should move to a Socialist country,” Rubio said of Sanders to rousing cheers from the audience.
After dismissing both of the top Democratic candidates for president, Rubio honed in on his positive message for America, one in which he promised “generational transformation” that will preserve the American dream for future generations.
“Reagan influenced a whole generation by what he believed,” he added, noting that he was only eight-years-old when Ronald Reagan was first elected President 36 years ago in 1980.
Rubio then described the generational battles for the American dream
“Americans are the descendants of go-getters,” he said.
“Americans are the descendants of people that came here, whether it was two centuries ago or two years ago, because they refused to live in a society that told them they could not be who they wanted to be. America is the descendants of slaves who overcame that horrifying institution to claim their stake to the American dream,” he added.
“America is a nation in which in our veins flows the blood of people who refused to accept the limits imposed on them by a stale and outdated society,” he noted.
“Our greatest days in this country are within our reach,” Rubio noted.
“But we have to take care of business right now. The last eight years have been a very bad time for this country because we have been led by people that have tried to change this country,” Rubio said.
“Barack Obama, when he was elected, he wasn’t just interested in fixing America’s problems. He wanted to make us more like another country. He wanted America to be more like other nations in other parts of the world,” he said.
But as Americans, Rubio added “We don’t want to be like other countries. We want to be the United States of America.”
The theme of unity was key for Rubio. “How do we win this election?” he asked rhetorically. “First, we win it by coming together. If we’re still fighting against each other in October, in September, we are not going to win,” he said.
The consequences of losing to the Democrats will be dire, not just for Republicans, but also for the country, according to Rubio. “Not winning doesn’t just mean the other party’s in charge. Not winning means that all of these policies that have haunted us for eight years, many of them become permanent.
State Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), the Tennessee co-chairman for the Rubio campaign, told the crowd that Tennessee was so important that Rubio had decided to make his first campaign stop after the South Carolina primary in the Volunteer State.
Rubio’s message seemed to be well received by the audience, which appeared to be comprised of Tennesseans who are usually not engaged in the political process, he added.
“He’s a God-fearing man, it seems like, and I like everything I’ve heard so far about him, and what he stands for,” Paul Rodriquez, in his thirties, of Nashville told Breitbart News.
“I’m planning to vote for Marco Rubio because I like what I’ve heard about his politics so far,” Elizabeth Robinson of Nashville, in her twenties, told Breitbart News.
“I’ve looked at several of his debates and campaigns and I just like his stance on a lot of the things about where we need to go as a country and I feel like he’s one of the few people who can really bring us back on the right path. We’ve kind of strayed so far from what this country is intended to be. I’m hoping he wins,” Robinson said.
“I’ve met Marco a couple of times. I’ve been very impressed with him,” Robert Scott of Franklin, in his fifties, told Breitbart News. “I am a small business person that really believes in the issues that he stands for,” Scott added.
“We’re big Rubio fans. We love his heart. We love his passion, and we’re looking forward to some good changes” Chrissie from Franklin, a mom in her thirties who brought her nine-year old daughter Haley to the event, told Breitbart News.
“I’m here because I believe that Marco Rubio is the only conservative candidate with any hope of defeating Hillary Clinton. So I just made my mind up to vote for him in the Tennessee primary,” Jim Ambrose of Burns, Tennessee, in his fifties, told Breitbart News.
One couple in their sixties, John and Louise Behm, drove the short fifteen miles south from Nashville to Franklin to attend the Rubio event. “We’re here because we think Rubio is the one candidate who, especially on naitional security, can protect our country which is the number one focus, without that we’ll have no country. We embrace his conservative values and we very much want him to be President of the United States,” Louise Boehm told Breitbart News.
“We’re here to see the best guy to run the country. We’ve got a rough job ahead of us. He’s the kind of material we need. I appreciate his experience and knowledge, and his position on the issues, as well as his character,” John Boehm told Breitbart News.