NASHUA, New Hampshire -- When asked, Marco Rubio insists that his record is lengthy and substantive. In a race where his rivals have suggested that he is far too inexperienced for the presidency, it's no surprise that the first-term Florida senator gets asked the question -- what, exactly, has he done? -- a lot.
It's a question his campaign can't seem to escape, especially since Rubio's rivals have targeted it relentlessly. Sen. Rick Santorum made headlines last week not for endorsing Rubio upon his departure from the race, something he did do, but for being unable to name a single one of Rubio's accomplishments. During Saturday night's debate, the senator was asked to explain his record, which offered Gov. Chris Christie the opportunity to slam it as nonexistent.
This morning, at a small, employer-sponsored town hall at BAE Systems in Nashua, an employee asked Rubio to name "the single accomplishment of which you're most proud of and the leadership that you employed achieving it."
Rubio answered with no less than seven specific bills, taking military contractors on a meandering review of nearly every elected office he's held in the last two decades.
“As part of the debate the other night, there was a big discussion about eminent domain and Governor Bush referred to what we did in Florida to protect against eminent domain abuse,” he said. “That was my law. I wrote...we helped craft that law from a committee that I chaired, we passed it into the law of Florida. I was the one that placed it on the ballot.”
(“Governor Bush always appreciated when State Representative Rubio supported his agenda," a Bush spokesman told MSNBC.)
Rubio also touted curriculum reform in Florida -- another thing Bush has touted before -- and said that when he became House Speaker in the state legislature, he’d written a book of 100 legislative goals, more than half of which are now law or policy. PolitiFact found this claim to be just half true way back in 2010. About a third of his 100 legislative goals were enacted or partially enacted into law, far less than the more than half he touted today.
As for the Senate achievements he was asked about, Rubio offered up his stock answer: sanctions on Hezbollah and Venezuela, the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act, defunding the Obamacare bailout fund, the Girls Count Act. He concluded by arguing that to really achieve his agenda, he'll need to be president.
"On issue after issue, I'm very proud of what we've done, and yet there's so much more to do. And we're not going to be able to do it unless we elect a president that will lead the country in the right direction on these issues," he said. “The point is: Congress can help shape the agenda but only a president can set it."
As a more subdued Rubio criss-crosses the state on a snowy Monday with seven events planned -- many of them off the record -- his rivals are fighting his momentum here by homing in on the same question the voter asked.
"He doesn't have a list," Jeb Bush said on Monday's "Morning Joe" of his rival and former mentee's record, noting that Rubio didn't show up to vote for the Hezbollah sanctions that were passed unanimously -- and that the sponsors of the bill that stripped Obamacare of its insurance company bailout fund deny that Rubio was a leader on it.
"He doesn't have a record," Bush said. "That's not to say he's not gifted, because he is, he's a gifted person and he will be a leader going forward, but he doesn't have a proven record and I think people aren't willing to make a risky bet on that."
Even as Rubio fends off attacks, some say less time in government is precisely his appeal. In an election year that’s favored outsiders and fresh faces amid seemingly unending cycle of embracing and vilifying the so-called political "establishment," Rubio has sought to toe the line of experienced and not-too-experienced, something voters say they like.
Ahead of seeing Rubio speak in Iowa last week, one voter from next-door Nebraska explained it this way.
“He has the right combination -- experience without too much experience, youth going for him, grasp of the issues and the policies that need to be changed in this country. And I think he has a natural, certain level -- I don’t know a better word than class. He just seems to have what we'd want to elect in a president,” Joette Deitering said.