GOP hopeful Marco Rubio stressed his conservative credentials and religious beliefs as he urged Idahoans to back him for president at a Boise rally on Sunday night, just two days before the state’s GOP primary election on Tuesday.
“Idaho has a chance to restart this campaign across this country,” Rubio said, and “give our party the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.”
“And let there be no doubt that I give us the best chance to win,” Rubio said to cheers in a chilly airport hangar, filled with 2,000 cheering supporters. “I promise you Hillary Clinton does not want to run against me. … I’m as conservative as anyone in this race.”
Rubio held rallies in Idaho Falls and Boise on Sunday, a day after Ted Cruz held an even bigger rally in Coeur d’Alene, followed by a belatedly scheduled appearance in Boise that drew 700 people.
Cruz notched victories in two states, Kansas and Maine, on Saturday, while front-runner Donald Trump took Louisiana and Kentucky; Rubio trailed in all four. But on Sunday, Rubio won Puerto Rico, garnering close to two dozen delegates. Idaho has 32 delegates at stake on Tuesday.
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, who introduced Rubio in Boise, said, “Right now we’re at a pivotal point in this election, and Idaho is going to be very, very important. … He shares Idaho’s values. He shares our conservative values.”
Rubio is Catholic, but he and his family briefly converted to the LDS Church when he was a child, and he still has family members with strong ties to the church, to which more than a quarter of Idahoans belong. Prominent LDS member and big GOP political giver Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls has endorsed Rubio.
Rubio’s state chairman in Idaho is state Controller Brandon Woolf, who is Mormon. But the state’s other top Mormon elected official, 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, is backing Cruz.
Rubio told the Boise crowd, “This nation was founded on a spiritual principle, not on a political one. It was founded on the belief that our rights come from God.”
He cited the “God-given right to pursue happiness” as a foundation of the nation, “which doesn’t necessarily mean how many buildings have your name on it … or how rich you are.”
Rubio recalled his modest beginnings as the son of a bartender and a maid, and invoked his parents’ view of the American dream, from owning a home in a safe neighborhood to leaving their children better off than they were.
“Conservatism is not about anger,” he said. “There is nothing Americans can’t do, nothing.”
He said, “If we nominate some of the people that are still running, we’re not going to win. ... And in the end if we don’t win, Hillary Clinton becomes president.” Amid boos from the crowd, he said, “And we will pay the price as a nation and a people.”
Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates, who attended both the Rubio and Cruz events, said Idaho’s new early presidential-only primary on Tuesday has brought the national race home to the state. “I literally have no gauge on how the vote will come out on Tuesday. I’m anxious to see the results,” he said, “and see where Idaho Republicans stand on this magical mystery tour we’re on.”
Among those in the crowd, Julie Kane of Eagle was dressed in red, white and blue and excited to see her favored candidate. “I think he’s probably the most intelligent, well-informed, passionate candidate we have, and I believe in him a lot,” said the retired flight attendant, who moved to Idaho from southern California 22 years ago in part because she liked the state’s GOP politics. But despite her strong party identification, Kane had nothing good to say about rival Donald Trump, who she called “a very poor excuse for a candidate.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when there would be somebody like that running for president,” Kane sniffed.
As people drove into the Boise Airport parking garage for the rally, a couple of protesters stood on corners waving signs saying, “Vote Trump, Please,” flashing thumbs-ups at the passing cars. Few flashed their thumbs back.
Mary Kugler of Nampa, a retired nurse who came with her 18-year-old daughter, Hayley Witzke, said she likes Rubio’s “fire.” “Some of his ideas are the same as mine, so he was a better fit for me,” she said. Her daughter, who will be voting for the first time, studied all the candidates in her school government class, and took an issues quiz that showed she was an 82 percent match with Rubio, 77 percent with Cruz.
Witzke said her mom was thrilled to learn her daughter’s not a Democrat.
Kugler said she doesn’t want to see Hillary Clinton become president. “I think Rubio could take her down,” she said.
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said he’s backing Rubio because “I’ve liked what he has done in Congress. I think he is the most presidential of the candidates.”
Among Rubio’s biggest applause lines was this: “I was invited to be on Saturday Night Live last night, but we turned it down because we wanted to make sure we got to Idaho in time.” As the crowd roared, he said, “We turned it down because I need your vote, I need your support.”