ANDERSON, South Carolina — Marco Rubio on Saturday called the Democratic party a “mess” and the private data breach by a Bernie Sanders’ campaign staffer “bizarre.”
“I find it [the database breach] bizarre. I think what’s going on in the Democratic party’s bizarre. Obviously their tactics have now gotten as bizarre as their policies,” he told reporters following a campaign stop in Anderson, South Carolina. “But they’re a mess, and it’s what they’ve done to our country. It’s apparently what they’re doing to their party.”
Sanders’ primary clash with frontrunner Hillary Clinton took a nasty turn when it was revealed on Thursday night that a Sanders campaign staffer improperly accessed private data belonging to Clinton’s campaign.
It wasn’t the first time the Republican senator had referenced the controversy that day — he joked about the situation at both campaign stops in South Carolina on Saturday, each time drawing laughter from the crowd.
“I still think we have a much better field than [the Democrats] do,” he said in Spartanburg. “For example, there’s no socialist running in the Republican primary. We’re not hacking into each other’s computers to steal our secrets the way that they are in the Democratic Party.”
He received an overall warm reception from his swing through South Carolina, drawing about 200 supporters to an outdoor event in Anderson on a chilly December day. The crowd was fired up, cheering and shouting out good-natured sports banter to Rubio on stage.
One question hung over the senator all day — the question of his youth and inexperience, which echo President Obama’s at the time he was elected. At both town halls on Saturday, Rubio was asked by a crowd member to explain how he’d do better than Obama, with a similar amount of experience, but Rubio dispatched the question with ease. In Anderson, he argued he, unlike Obama, had done something in office, pointing to his effort to undermine Obamacare by effectively defunding the law’s risk corridors.
In Spartanburg, he said the issue with Obama wasn’t experience, noting “Barack Obama now has seven years of presidential experience and he’s worse to day than he was at the beginning.”
“He failed because his ideas don’t work,” Rubio said.
The Palmetto State votes third in the primary calendar and, as the first state in the South to go to the polls, holds a special spot in the GOP nominating contest. While Rubio’s expected to post a strong performance there, as many of his top advisors have deep roots in the state and his hawkish profile fits South Carolina’s defense-minded GOP electorate, he typically polls third or fourth in most polls of the GOP primary there.
But he could get a helpful boost in the primary from two of South Carolina’s most popular elected officials, Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy. Both came out to show their support — though they insisted, not to offer an official endorsement — for Florida senator on Saturday, and offered Rubio effusive praise.
Gowdy met him when he landed in South Carolina and came to introduce him at his first event of the day, in Spartanburg, telling the crowd “I haven’t seen anyone that does a better job of communicating principled conservatism in a hopeful way.” In Anderson, both were joined by Scott, who introduced Rubio as inspiring, hopeful and having an “amazing story.”
“One of the reasons why I wanted to be here is because when I think about those candidates running for president who truly inspire people, who has an amazing story, who understands the value of our American citizenship, who looks to the future because he has beautiful kids he’s fighting for, I can think of no one better who speaks hope and creates real opportunities” than Rubio, he said.
Scott told NBC News his appearance wasn’t an endorsement, but that he did plan to endorse sometime between his Jan. 9 cattle call and the South Carolina primary in March.
And while Gowdy said “I typically don’t endorse people,” and downplayed the impact of such an endorsement, he suggested his appearance on the trail with Rubio wasn’t for nothing.
“The fact that Timmy and I are here on a Saturday, in a place where neither one of us lives, probably should tell you something,” Gowdy said.
This article first appeared on NBCNews.com.