CONCORD, N.C. – Marco Rubio prepared to make one of the biggest announcements of the political season in a book store in Concord, N.C., on Friday. What are the chances of his grabbing the vice presidential spot on the Mitt Romney ticket? “I made a decision three months ago” — pause — not to talk about it. He’s sure, however, that Romney “is going
to make a great choice.” Senator Rubio, you’re such a tease.
He’s perfected the line by now, dragging it out, finishing it off with a sly smile. As he makes his way up the East Coast and, coincidentally, through crucial swing states such as North Carolina and Virginia, the junior senator from Florida stops to sell and sign “An American Son: A Memoir” — his “tribute to the American dream” — and to deliver the GOP message: Big government “hurts people who are trying to make it, not people who have already made it.”
It doesn’t hurt that the message comes in a personable package with an inspirational tale to tell. Near the front of the line in the crowd of about 70 at the Books-A-Million, Donya LaRousa said, “We love what he stands for, his conservative values.” She was holding three copies of Rubio’s book as she stood with her husband, Kevin LaRousa. The Harrisburg, N.C., couple, with three children at home, owns an Amway business. Kevin, wearing a “fight socialism” T-shirt, said he admires Rubio’s heritage as a Cuban-American. “His family comes from a socialist country; he knows what we don’t want.”
Like many waiting for a signature and photo op, the LaRousas’ excitement for Rubio overshadowed their support for the presumptive GOP nominee. (Some wistfully imagined the Rubio name on the ticket – and not in the No. 2 spot.) Donya said she had been more in line with Michele Bachmann’s views, and liked Rick Santorum, too. When I asked whether she would have preferred Rubio to Romney, she said, “Oh, yeah,” while her husband was more muted, warning against “dissension among our own.”
Rubio looked cool and comfortable despite the 100-plus degree heat outside the store, where his big bus awaited. He managed deft answers to questions about immigration reform, an issue that has bedeviled a GOP that’s hard-line yet mindful of the growing number of
“Both sides oversimplify,” Rubio said, expressing compassion for “real people who have come here in search of a better life” as he warned against punishing those who have waited in line and “done it the right way.”
Patricio Lopez is “a big fan of Republicans and especially this guy,” he told me. Lopez, 44, came to the United States from Chile 11 years ago, and while he said he doesn’t much like Romney, he said he believes a conservative direction is “really, really needed in America.”
Angelica Velazquillo, 26, was skeptical of all politicians. A self-described “dreamer,” she was brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents when she was 4. “He’s spoken out on behalf of a fellow dreamer in Florida,” Velazquillo said of Rubio, but she’s waiting for him to present his own version of a dream act, as promised.
Of Obama’s recent announcement that those brought to the United States as children would not be deported if they meet certain requirements, she said, “I have my reservations; the language is ambiguous.” The honors graduate of Belmont Abbey College said, “I’m constantly worried about deportation.” She invited Rubio to speak at the University of Chicago, where she is headed to graduate school, and he said he would check his schedule, she told me.
When asked about North Carolina’s growing number of Hispanic voters, most of whom lean toward the Democratic Party, Rubio said he hoped to see a turnaround and more support for Republicans. Immigration reform is important, he said, but “it’s not the only issue.”
Wayne King, vice chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, who welcomed Rubio to the state, said, “ He stands firm in what he believes and presents bold issues and solutions that Americans want in a time like this.” The book jacket on the “American Son” bus — in English and Spanish — proves that the times are indeed changing; the Republican Party is hoping Rubio can help them keep up.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at the New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3.