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Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio told a group of about 300 supporters Monday that 2016 will be a pivotal election about deciding the direction the country will take and the opportunities children will enjoy.
"This election is not a choice between Republicans and Democrats alone," he said. "This election is a generational choice, and here's the choice: What kind of country are we going to be in the new century? We'll either be the first Americans who leave our children worse than ourselves, or our children will be the freest and most prosperous Americans ever."
The Florida senator then hit on a laundry list of topics from energy policy to national security to vocational training and economic policy during his 40-minute stump speech, drawing a few ovations and chants of "Rubio! Rubio!"
Rubio attended the rally at the Utah State Fairpark and a private fundraiser in Davis County. He was flanked by several prominent Utah politicos, including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, House Speaker Greg Hughes and U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, who predicted the senator would become one of the greatest presidents in American history.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said candidates put Utah on the map when they come here, but he was not enthused about Rubio's stopover.
"We're never excited when politicians come to Utah to use us as their ATM," Corroon said. "Based on what we've heard from Marco Rubio and the other Republicans, Utahns should not be excited about the path down which they want to take this country."
Rubio is running third in the crowded Republican presidential field behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Rubio has raised more than $15 million for his campaign, according to the Center For Responsive Politics. He was expected to rack up more during his Utah visit.
On Monday evening, Rubio spoke for about 30 minutes at a roundtable discussion with a group of about 40 people who paid $2,700 per person to attend the question-and-answer session at the home of Karen and Scott Keller.
Afterward, Rubio addressed a crowd of about 150 who paid $500 per person to attend, addressing many of the same themes he touched on earlier at the rally, focusing heavily on foreign policy matters.
"He had a very impressive grasp of that, spent a lot of time on issues involving the Middle East and Russia," Cox said. "It was a very enthusiastic crowd. Some who I think were supporting other candidates, as well, who were maybe giving Sen. Rubio another look."
Scott Keller is the president and CEO of Keller Investment Properties. The couple hosted a fundraiser for Romney in 2012 that the campaign said raised more than $50,000.
At the rally, Rubio ran through his plans to streamline federal regulations, which he said hurt small businesses and stifle economic growth.
He said Social Security and Medicare would have to change in the future, with people possibly retiring later or receiving less if they are wealthy.
He called for repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and replacing it with a less regulated market in which consumers choose their insurance. And he suggested an overhaul to higher education, with more vocational education and opportunities for people to return to school.
"A welder makes a lot more than a philosopher," Rubio said.
He drew his loudest applause on the topic of national security, promising to undo defense cuts, rebuild the military, improve care for veterans, defend Israel and strengthen the global standing of the U.S.
"We live in a world today that is as dangerous as at any point in the lifetime of anyone in this room," Rubio said. He said North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear weapons, China is flexing its muscle, terrorism remains a threat and the "gangster" Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting as a destabilizing force.
"Our adversaries do not respect us; they openly mock the president of the United States. They have [nothing] holding them back from doing anything they want and our allies do not trust us," Rubio said. "That will change when I'm president. All of our allies, especially Israel, and the world will know that America not just stands with Israel. We stand with our allies."
Rubio said if voters choose wisely, history will say this generation rose to the challenges it was facing at a rapidly changing and dangerous time.
"Now the time has come for us to do our part," he said. "Now the time has come for us to face our greatest challenges and embrace our great opportunity. And we're all called to this task, for we're all the beneficiaries of the greatness of America."
For many of those in attendance, the event was a chance to learn more about the candidate and his positions.
"I just want to learn more from him is really what it is," said Julie Wilkes, who attended the rally. "I like a lot of different candidates, so I want try to find something that maybe separates him. I like Rubio a lot. I like Rand Paul a lot. I like Ted Cruz a lot, so it really is kind of a weeding-out process."
Stan Tschaggeny and his wife, Elaine, brought their children to hear Rubio speak and hoping to hear more from one of the candidates they said they would consider voting for.
"I think I agree with most of his positions. He seems good on foreign policy. I like his stances there," said Stan Tschaggeny, who hoped to hear more from Rubio about his position on immigration. "I'm a little concerned [with it]. I think we need to have some selection process for who comes into the country."