Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in a quick swing through Minneapolis on Tuesday, touted himself as the Republican presidential candidate best poised to win next November.
"Our candidate must be someone who can also attract new people in our cause, and we will," Rubio said to a small group of supporters and journalists before a private campaign fundraiser at the Minneapolis Club. He listed as examples his campaign trail appeals to college students burdened by debt and single mothers lacking career opportunities.
"It's been a long time since they've heard from Republicans and conservatives," Rubio said. "When I am the nominee, they will hear from us."
The Florida senator has emerged in recent weeks as perhaps the best hope of more middle-of-the-road Republicans looking for an alternative to businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. To coincide with his Minnesota visit, Rubio's campaign released what they called his "Minnesota leadership team" — a list of about two dozen high-profile state GOP supporters. The list is establishment-heavy, made up primarily of young political operatives and several former Republican state legislative leaders.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is chairman of Rubio's operation in Minnesota. The GOP's 2014 candidate for governor has frequently argued that Republicans have lost sight of what it takes to appeal to a broad swath of voters.
"If there is one complaint that I have heard from Republicans, it is this: they say to me, why can't we ever pick a candidate who can inspire people and who can effectively share our conservative message with Americans?" Johnson asked. "Well, we found that guy."
Like several of the leading Republican and Democratic candidates, Rubio has his eye on Minnesota's March 1 caucus. This year the state is part of "Super Tuesday," one of 12 states that will hold primaries or caucuses that immediately follow the first four contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
"You might be the state or one of a group of states that decide who our nominee is," Rubio said. His chief spokesman, Alex Conant — a native Minnesotan who worked on former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bid for president four years ago — said Rubio would be back in Minnesota before March 1 to hold more campaign-style events.
This stop in Minnesota was brief. Rubio arrived late Monday night, stayed overnight in a Minneapolis hotel and attended the 8 a.m. fundraiser. Entry to the event cost $2,700 per person for "hosts," $1,000 per person for "sponsors" or a minimum buy-in of $500. Later in the day, Rubio quickly passed through Illinois and Missouri for additional fundraisers before heading to the East Coast where he will campaign in New Hampshire for the next several days.
Several Republican candidates, namely former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, passed through Minnesota in recent months for private fundraisers and made no public appearances. Cruz held a large rally in St. Paul in December, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also campaigned in Minnesota late last year.
The two leading Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have made several Minnesota campaign stops. They, along with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, are all scheduled to speak at a DFL dinner in St. Paul next month.