PALM HARBOR (CBSMiami/NSF) – Speaking a breakfast for Florida delegates to the Republican National Convention, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tried to frame the debate in this year’s elections as being about the role of government.
Rubio derided Democrats for “old, tired ideas” and said there are big differences between the two parties and their presidential candidates.
“The current president believes that the way the economy grows is through the government,” said Rubio, who became a star in national Republican politics in 2010 when he beat former Gov. Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek to win an open Senate seat.
Rubio’s speech, however, was interrupted four times by protesters shouting about such things as Republicans being beholden to corporations. The protesters were quickly ushered out of a banquet room at the swanky Innisbrook resort, where the Florida delegation is staying for the convention.
At one point, the Republican crowd shouted down a protester by chanting, “Marco, Marco, Marco.” Another time they shouted down a protester by chanting, “USA, USA, USA.”
Rubio quipped after one of the protests, “I guess he’s not happy with the hotel assignment,” referring to a common topic among the Florida delegation, which is staying far from convention activities in downtown Tampa.
While the protesters briefly interrupted Rubio, the breakfast speech gave a preview of issues that likely will be heard repeatedly as Republican leaders address the convention Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Republicans want to portray themselves as the party of small government and free enterprise, and Tuesday’s session has been given the theme, “We Built It” — a reference to an Obama comment about government’s role that has become a talking point for the GOP.
“President Obama wants us to be like sheep — equal outcomes,” state Republican Chairman Lenny Curry said before Rubio’s speech.
Rubio largely stuck to familiar refrains during his speech, such as stressing private job creation and limited government and chiding Obama for dividing people along income and other lines.
“Barack Obama 2.0 is a divisive figure,” Rubio said.
Attorney General Pam Bondi also spoke to the Republican activists and criticized Democrats for portraying Romney as “anti-women.” Polls show Obama with a lead among women voters, and Democrats have capitalized on controversial comments about rape and abortion by Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri.
“What the Democrats are trying to do is create distractions,” Bondi said. “They’re ridiculous distractions that don’t make sense.”
Bondi has taken on a national profile, at least in part because she helped lead a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 federal health-care overhaul that Republicans vehemently opposed. She will speak to the convention Wednesday night, before Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, takes the stage.
“I’ve got to go work on my speech a little bit,” Bondi said before leaving the breakfast.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.