GREENVILLE, S.C. — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio cast himself as a candidate of the future at a town hall here Thursday, basking in the glow of two of the state’s top Republican officials.
Nikki Haley, the state’s 44-year-old governor, joined 50-year-old Sen. Tim Scott in introducing the 44-year-old Rubio. Rubio said he’s a “conservative that can win” because he can build a diverse, younger coalition of voters.
“The great thing about our party is that we have this new generation of leaders ready to take the mantle,” he said. “We are prepared to turn the page and move forward, to take our principles of conservatism and apply them to the 21st century.”
Haley quipped that “the new group of conservatives taking over America looks like a Benetton commercial.” Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants, Haley the daughter of Indian immigrants, and Tim Scott is African-American.
Rubio also played up the diversity in the room. He said the GOP must take “our message to people who don’t usually vote for us” in order to reclaim the White House.
Shortly after Haley endorsed Rubio on Wednesday, his campaign released an ad titled “Future” that featured the South Carolina governor. In the ad, Haley said she’s backing Rubio because “this election is about the future and the future is now.”
It’s clear where Rubio is headed with this message. The Floridian weaved references to his age throughout his remarks. When discussing Social Security reform, he said he might have to wait to retire at 68—at which time, he joked, he’d still be “one of the youngest in the Senate.”
“If I was running as a Democrat for president,” he continued, “I would be the youngest one there, too.”
Both Democratic candidates are more than 20 years Rubio’s senior: Hillary Clinton is 68 years old, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is 74. Republican Donald Trump, who leads in polling in South Carolina, is 69.
Rubio’s Republican rivals have said he lacks the experience and maturity to be the nominee, and that voters shouldn’t elect another one-term senator as president. (President Obama had served less than one full term in the Senate when elected in 2008.)
After the event, Scott told reporters that the GOP must expand its base to remain relevant. He said Rubio’s “aspirational” message will resonate more than other Republicans’ “anger.”
“The angrier you are, the harder it will be to attract voters,” he said. “The thing about presidential elections is that they’re aspirational. If you don’t have an aspirational message, it’s very hard to attract new voters.”
Rick Goddard, a father of five who was one of roughly 200 people at the town hall, said his daughter convinced him to support Rubio. He traveled to the Soviet Union once, he said, and when he returned to the U.S., he “kissed the ground.”
“I saw how different we are, how much we stand out, and I want to continue that,” Goddard, 55, said. “I have a five-year-old that I want to have that same experience, and hopefully one day her five-year-old will have that, too.”
Rubio, Haley and Scott wrapped up the town hall standing on stage alongside Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who represents Greenville, and who has gone head-to-head with Hillary Clinton as chairman of the House Benghazi committee. Gowdy endorsed Rubio in December.