Fla. Sen. Rubio praises 'job creators' in hometown speech

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 19, 2011 

After a series of high profile speeches across the country, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio returned home Sunday for an address that took a direct dig at the jobs plan coming out of the White House.

Rubio, in the keynote address at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention, told the crowd gathered to hear him that he was proud to be in a room "with job creators."

The country doesn’t need exotic jobs proposals to rev up the economy, Rubio said. Focusing on lifting burdensome regulations, simplifying the tax code, investing in a skilled workforce and increasing domestic energy production can go a long way toward creating jobs, he said. He also called for passing free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

"The American free enterprise system has provided more opportunity than any economic system in the history of the world," Rubio said, "and these are the things that I hope we will re-embrace again as a nation."

Florida’s newest U.S. senator has been working to define himself to a national political audience in recent months, with policy speeches that go far beyond those most freshmen U.S. senators make. Sunday’s speech brought that big-time speechifying home, to a business-minded audience.

Although it may not be a calculated effort to stoke the GOP vice presidential buzz he can’t seem to escape, the speeches have served to raise Rubio’s profile and given people outside of Florida a clearer sense of his political identity. He spoke last month about the role of government in America at the Reagan Library in California; last week, he burnished his foreign policy bona fides at the Jesse Helms Center in North Carolina.

Sunday night’s keynote address represented far more than a hometown crowd, though. The Chamber of Commerce gathering on Miami Beach is the largest meeting of Hispanic business leaders in the country; the national organization represents nearly 3 million businesses and 200 local Hispanic chambers of commerce across the nation.

Despite the economic downturn of the past five years, Hispanic businesses have witnessed 114 percent growth in revenue over the last three years, Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Javier Palomarez told The Herald last week.

Now, nearly everyone wants the attention of those Hispanic business owners – especially if they’re potential voters. That includes President Barack Obama, who will be trying to hold on to the Hispanic voters whose support helped him win his first presidential election.

Obama in 2008 won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote nationwide. In Florida, exit polls show he won 57 percent of the Latino vote in a state where Hispanics have traditionally been reliable Republican voters.

Hispanics in Florida are particularly coveted because they make up the fastest-growing major segment of the electorate, increasing 28 percent from 2006 to 2010. Most of those gains have gone to Democrats, but

But Hispanic support for Obama, like that of black and white voters, has slid along with the economy. A recent Gallup poll found that Obama earned the lowest monthly job approval rating of his presidency to date in August, with 41 percent of U.S. adults approving of his overall job performance, down from 44 percent in July. Hispanics gave him his lowest marks of his term in office, with just 48 percent approving of his job performance, according to Gallup.

Rubio’s speech to Hispanic business leaders was similar in tone to the sweeping approach he took in his most recent speeches. This time, though, he focused on business.

He seemed fully aware of the influence and potential reach of his audience. He was careful to note that while unemployment nationwide is 9.1 percent, it’s as high as 11.3 percent among Latinos, and one in every three young Hispanics is unemployed.

"People ask me about our community all the time," Rubio said. "And I tell them that of all the communities in America, none understands the American dream or the American hope better than ours…we understand the American dream because we didn’t read about it in a book. We have lived it and our living it now."

Sen Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also will speak at the convention. He’s scheduled to speak at a breakfast Monday morning, where he’ll focus on economic recovery. He’s expected to stress the need for giving small business more access to capital and will reiterate his support for the free-trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.

Nelson also will advocate for eliminating tax loopholes, and using the additional revenue to lower tax rates on individuals and small businesses. Nelson said that a recent op-ed about the subject elicited a note from investor Warren Buffett, who backs Obama’s plan to raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a year. Obama is expected release details of the tax proposal Monday as part of a deficit-cutting plan.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

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