GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio visited Ohio this week to unveil his energy policy proposals. I attended the event and wrote about the substance of Rubio’s speech and proposals here. Afterward, as I was driving home through the backroads of Ohio, I had some thoughts about the direction of Rubio’s campaign. In no particular order:
1) It should be noted that other than Governor Kasich, Rubio is the only GOP presidential candidate actively campaigning in the perpetually important swing state of Ohio. The other candidates are either ceding the state to Kasich or keeping their powder dry until after the earlier primaries. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Kasich has a lock on Ohio. The conservative base here despises him and this time around, unlike in 2012, there are several candidates who could genuinely and legitimately contend for the nomination. Sure, Kasich likes to cite how he trounced his Dem opponent during his re-election campaign, but what he fails to mention is that his opponent was possibly the worst, most incompetent candidate ever to run for governor in the state of Ohio. Really…EVER.
Also, Nick Mascari from Third Base Politics makes an excellent point:
2) I commend Rubio for doing the hard work, day after day, of visiting these little one-stoplight towns, where cows outnumber people and cellphone signals are about as predictable as the weather. As much as these candidates appear to enjoy being on the stump — and I’m sure some of them genuinely do — it’s grueling work that involves a lot of smiling for cameras and pretending to be absolutely fascinated by whatever widget is being made at whatever factory you’re visiting on any given day. Bonus points to Marco for being willing to come to Ohio, where the weather is lousy nearly every minute of every day of the campaign season.
3) It was a smart move on Rubio’s part to name State Treasurer Josh Mandel as his Ohio campaign chairman. Mandel has solid conservative cred in the state and, unlike Gov. Kasich and other state elected officials, hasn’t gone out of his way to alienate the GOP base and Tea Party activists. Rubio campaigned for Mandel during his unsuccessful Senate race in 2012 and now Mandel is returning the favor. The two seem genuinely close and having a youthful wingman who is also great on the stump can only help Rubio as he vies for a piece of the electoral landscape in Ohio. Mandel also laid a lot of groundwork for Rubio in southeast Ohio, where he worked hard to earn the votes of Democrats in coal country who are hurting as a result of Obama’s retrograde climate-obsessed energy policies.
4) I was surprised at the low energy exhibited at the event — both by Rubio and the crowd. Rubio was unveiling his energy policy (yes, there’s some irony here) and obviously this wasn’t a canned stump speech, so it’s understandable that he might not have it perfectly timed, with every line crowd-tested. And an energy policy speech isn’t exactly the kind of red meat that brings attendees at these types of events to their feet. Even so, I would have expected at least a few applause lines from a standing-room -only crowd that was obviously supportive of Rubio — they gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end — but there were none. Not. A. One. Whether it was Rubio’s lack of enthusiasm, his nervousness at trying out a new speech, the policy-heavy content of the speech, or something to do with the crowd mix that day, I don’t know, but the speech and the entire event lacked enthusiasm.
Also, a little advice to Team Rubio: put some more thought into the music selections if they want to amp up the energy at these events. Herb Alpert’s 1979 song “Rise” hardly evokes images of a forward-looking candidate. In fact, millions of ’80s “General Hospital” junkies remember it as the song that was playing when Luke raped Laura in the disco. Who thought that song was a good idea? They might want to check with PJ Media’s Mark Ellis for some song suggestions.
5) Rubio turned on the charm the minute the speech was over. He stayed after to shake hands, sign autographs, and pose for selfies for at least half an hour, smiling and chatting amiably with veterans, old women, young men, and little kids. He was clearly in his element and people were eating it up. Somehow, he needs to find a way to take that energy and enthusiasm with him onto the podium and the TV sets.
6) I wish 2011 Rubio would come back. Rubio gave a speech that year at the Reagan Library and there was a really sweet moment before the speech when Rubio was escorting Mrs. Reagan down the aisle and he scooped her up in charming fashion when she stumbled and fell. I wrote that his speech that night was inspiring and I had a lump in my throat listening to it. He was earnest and intense and radiated American exceptionalism. Sometime in the space between 2011 and Friday’s speech, Rubio lost that inspiring mojo. He now often seems nervous — scripted and careful — and his natural charm is not translating into his speeches and TV appearances. He needs to get that feeling back again — be that Prince Charming who rescued Mrs. Reagan — if he hopes to win over not only Republican primary voters, but swing voters in the general election.
There’s a lot to like about Rubio and he’s doing a lot of things right. There’s a part of me hoping he will rally to the occasion and find a way to balance “careful” and “charming” if for no other reason than his cheerful optimism would be an exquisitely beautiful contrast to Hillary’s cold, calculated, perpetually offended persona.