“I don’t have a problem with that as long as I am David,” he said to a crowd of more than 250. “People seem to forget that David beat Goliath.”
Rubio, who has found himself the front runner in the Republican primary, was one of two keynote speakers at the 30th annual Eagle Forum luncheon Friday. To those assembled at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, he was a rock star.
Rubio told the crowd that those who had heard him speak in the months leading up to the luncheon would not be hearing anything new because he is running for Senate for the same reasons that he was when he started the campaign.
“The 2010 election is not about slogans. ... It is not about who’s more photogenic or who has a better story to tell,” he said. “It is in essence a referendum on our identity as a nation.”
Rubio specifically addressed the 120 students from six public and private schools sitting in the back of the room.
“The country you inherit is going to owe more than it’s worth,” he said. “There will be less money to invest and that means fewer people willing to hire you. You could be the first Americans to inherit a nation worse off than the ones your parents were left with.”
Rubio, 38, told the audience that if he is elected to the Senate, his No. 1 priority would be to ensure the country gets serious about paying down its sovereign debt. He said that priority had to come before anything else.
After Rubio finished speaking, he took questions from the audience, including several students from Lorenzo Walker Technical High School.
Senior Veronica Lopez, 17, wanted to know Rubio’s stance on education, particularly higher education.
Rubio said he believed that education should be a state priority and not a federal one.
“I think that is fundamental,” he said. “I think if you have a strong educational system in the state, people will want to come to your state because you will have a strong workforce.”
Rubio, who met with several of the Lorenzo Walker students before he spoke, said he also believes that the nation needs to stop stigmatizing career education. He said he saw the value of students earning certifications while working towards a diploma, adding that not everyone needs to attend a four-year college.
Veronica said she appreciated what Rubio said.
“He was very honest,” she said. “He’s on the right path. He gave the answer I wanted to hear.”
Lorenzo Walker senior Chris Cuevas, 17, asked Rubio’s opinion of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and whether it should be repealed.
“I think that is up to the military people to decide. That is not an issue for politicians,” he said.
Chris said he liked Rubio’s response.
“It was an honest answer,” he said. “I know that I have different political views than he does and I would like to know his answer on a personal level, but I thought he gave a good answer.”
Barron Collier High School teacher Charles Shanks said he was working with Rubio’s campaign to give his students the opportunity to have a Web chat with the candidate.
“They are first-time voters,” he said of his students. “This gives (Rubio and the students) the opportunity to know each other.”
Rubio’s speech was followed by Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative activist who founded the Eagle Forum.
Schlafly called the 2010 election “the most important election of our lifetime.” She urged the audience to vote for good conservative, pro-family Republicans.
“I am optimistic we can do it this year. I think the American people are waking up,” she said. “We’re talking about saving America.”