EXETER, New Hampshire – After months of middle-of-the-pack obscurity, Marco Rubio’s in the spotlight -- and he’s loving it.
“When I’m president, we’re banning Marco Polo!” the Republican senator from Florida bellowed with a smile, cracking up a crowd of 800 here in New Hampshire over his childhood distaste of the game that shares his name, before returning to his stump speech: “Where was I? The economy.”
Joking and smiling to the packed crowd here in New Hampshire, Rubio took a victory lap. The candidate is suddenly a front-runner, plucked from relative obscurity by a stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa’s caucuses on Monday night. Looking to capitalize on that newfound momentum, Rubio pitched his message with optimism and laughs.
“We have a chance to be greater than we’ve ever been, I believe that with all my heart. There is a chance – a real chance within our reach – that my children and the children that are here today and your children and grandchildren could be the freest and most prosperous Americans that have ever been. That’s within our reach. That will not happen – that will not happen – if the next four years are anything like the last seven.”
Interspersed with serious messaging was jokes and emotional anecdotes about his family, along with nods to the candidate's history as a winner -- taking on Charlie Crist in Florida, and big odds in Iowa. Rubio isn’t just a flash in the caucus pan, his campaign is insisting that, in the wake of his strong finish, he’s a winner. “It’s our time to pick the candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton,” Rubio senior advisor Jim Merrill said introducing the candidate.
The crowd ate it up. While hecklers interrupt controversial front-runner Donald Trump’s rallies multiple times a night, they pledge affection to Rubio. “I love you,” cried one girl. “Get the job done!” yelled another. “Hillary for prison,” shouted a third.
Rubio’s fans here in New Hampshire reiterated what their Iowa counterparts told MSNBC last week: Rubio’s personality is drawing voters away from other conservatives and onto his team.
Seabrook, New Hampshire’s Rosemary Emond said she had Cruz’s signs in her yard, but in the last two weeks she’s decided to vote for Rubio.
“I am now,” she said. “The way he is and the things he says, I think it might be better in the general election.”
And his Iowa win? Well, it’s sweetening the deal.
“I was very happy," Sherry Pierce, a retiree and longtime Rubio supporter, said. "I was worried that a lot of his votes would go to Cruz, in New Hampshire, because people would think he couldn’t win, so I think he’s going to do very well in New Hampshire."