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CPAC: Why Marco Rubio could be the real winner (+video)

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Still, Rubio can take heart from his performance in the first cattle call of the 2016 cycle. Though elected to the Senate in 2010 as a tea party darling (like Paul), he has morphed into a mainstream GOP favorite. Rubio’s CPAC speech wasn’t as pungent as Paul’s – “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” the Kentuckian said – but he still got the packed ballroom to its feet Thursday with an approach that was more inspirational than hard-edged.

“We don't need a new idea,” Rubio said. “There is an idea. The idea is called America, and it still works.”

Rubio also tossed in some red meat to social conservatives, defending traditional marriage, opposition to abortion, and skepticism on climate change. But he didn’t dwell on those topics, and on gay marriage, he occupied a middle ground, allowing that states have the right to define marriage how they wish.  

Rubio’s speech was mostly focused on the economy, and he sounded almost Obamaesque in his discussion of the middle class and education. He spoke of a family he knows that wants to reach the middle class, but with parents who lack the training for jobs that would get them there.

“They're not freeloaders. They're not liberals,” Rubio said, winning some laughs. “They're just everyday people that want what everybody else wants…. They want a better life for themselves and an even better life for their children.”

Except for the slap at liberals, that could have been President Obama speaking. Rubio also played it safe on immigration, making no mention of the issue, his new support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, or his role in the Senate trying to forge a bipartisan consensus.

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