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GOP Presidential Campaign Taking Shape In NC

Rubio addressed a crowd at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Saturday. He has received endorsements from about a dozen state lawmakers.
Jeff Tiberii

With just three weeks until the Iowa Caucuses, Presidential candidates are hop-scotching across the United States making their political pitch. Donald Trump is in Windham, New Hampshire Monday morning. Ted Cruz has a Monday afternoon event scheduled in Baton Rouge. And Republican hopeful Marco Rubio is in Sarasota, Florida to deliver an economic address on taxes and spending. This past weekend Rubio rallied in Raleigh.

"After seven years of Barack Obama this is not a time for patience. If we get this election wrong, we may not be able to turn this thing around," Rubio warned the crowd.

For about 45 minutes the son of Cuban immigrants spoke about how his presidency would take shape. Religious freedoms, gun rights, defending the U.S. constitution, and growing the Navy are a few of the conservative staples he discussed. Rubio also described how his time in the Oval Office would begin, immediately following the inauguration.

"My hand is going to get tired doing this but I’m going to do it – my first minutes there. I’m going to repeal every single one of Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders," Rubio said, as the crowd cheered.

Rubio’s visit to the State Fairgrounds came a month after GOP front runner Donald Trump stumped just a few doors down. Despite the proximity of the two events, they were decidedly different.  Instead of a few thousand supporters, Rubio’s stop brought out a few hundred. Gone was the throng of national reporters, replaced with a smaller contingent of mostly local media. And there were no oversized heads on foam board, or heckling protestors. There were, however, many more familiar political faces.

"Well he’s powerful, substantive, conservative," explained Representative Skip Stam, a long-time Republican member of the North Carolina House. Stam is also one of about a dozen state lawmakers who have endorsed Rubio.

Rubio posed for selfies and worked the crowd after speaking for 45 minutes.
Credit Jeff Tiberii
Rubio posed for selfies and worked the crowd after speaking for 45 minutes.

"He combines a good campaign style, very conservative, rational, but in temperament. He is not angry, he is not impulsive; he is thoughtful," said Stam, who sees four or five acceptable republican presidential candidates. Trump is not one of them.

"We have to deal in specifics. He deals in vague generalities. And I think it’s easier for legislators to understand how empty that can be," added Stam.

No state lawmakers have come out to declare their support of Trump. At his event last month there were no elected officials on stage or conservative power brokers visible in the crowd, as was the case this weekend with Rubio.

"Well it’s interesting in the academic research says academic endorsements are really important, but particularly for early primary states," shared David McLennen, a professor of Political Science at Meredith College. He says the real wave of endorsements is taking place in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Two dozen states hold primaries before North Carolina. Because of that timing in the election cycle he doesn’t expect to see Senate Leader Phil Berger or House Speaker Tim Moore back a candidate. Governor Pat McCrory has already indicated he will not offer an endorsement before the primary.

"You know if we go back to 2008 for example – We’ve seen in the Obama administration, he brought people in who endorsed Hillary Clinton. So, if we use that as an example it really doesn’t matter all that much," McLennan said.

Formal endorsements have been part of American politics for at least 150 years. They continue to offer some influence, but have yet to help close the gap for candidates chasing Trump. Despite the lack of policy details, establishment support and prominent endorsements – Trump continues to lead the cluttered field of GOP hopefuls – both nationally and here in North Carolina. Rubio sits third in the race.

Rubio is polling third in North Carolina, and nationally, behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Credit Jeff Tiberii
Rubio is polling third in North Carolina, and nationally, behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

The primary premiere is less than a month away and early voting in North Carolina begins in just 45 days.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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