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In Rubio's visit to Iowa, some get whiff of 2016

| Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 5:52 p.m.
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ALTOONA, IA - NOVEMBER 17: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (L) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speak with the media at a combination fundraiser and birthday party for Branstad, on November 17, 2012 in Altoona, Iowa. Branstad turned 65 this year. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)

ALTOONA, Iowa — Sen. Marco Rubio said the way to turn around the nation's struggling economy is not to raise taxes on the wealthiest individuals, but rather to make “poor people richer” as he visited this politically important state in a trip certain to stoke speculation about Rubio's plans for 2016.

Ostensibly, Rubio's visit was for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

“For Gov. Branstad's birthday, his 66th,” Rubio said, flashing a grin when asked what he was doing in the state.

But his birthday wishes for Branstad were more like a roadmap for his party looking for a new direction and an argument for a Rubio presidential campaign.

In a 24-minute, campaign-style pitch to fellow Republicans, Rubio ticked through conservative goals: Lower taxes to spur economic growth. A compassionate immigration overhaul. Reduced regulation to let small businesses grow. Stronger families to give children more stability at home.

He said Mitt Romney's loss should not be taken as a rejection of Republicans' views.

“The way to turn our economy around is not by making rich people poorer, it's by making poor people richer,” Rubio said, taking aim at President Obama, who has advocated that those making more than $250,000 pay more in taxes.

Branstad said the party was ready to “turn the page” on the Romney candidacy and praised Rubio as the “kind of inspirational leader that's going to help point us in the right direction.”

In the less than two weeks since Romney's loss, Republican officials have been plotting a comeback for the party and many have urged a shift in the way leaders sell the GOP's message to voters — especially Hispanic and younger voters.

Among the one in 10 voters who were Hispanic, Obama carried 71 percent of them, according to exit polls. And among the 19 percent of voters under the age of 30, Obama carried 60 percent.

Rubio, a Cuban-American who has criticized his party at times on immigration policy, could help Republicans make inroads with the growing demographic group of Hispanics.

“People understand that we need to do something to address those issues and they want to do that in a reasonable and responsible way,” Rubio told reporters.

The visit — so soon after Election Day — is among the first hints of a field of contenders for 2016. It was roughly this time four years ago that Romney started pushing his national profile ahead of a second presidential bid; his New York Times op-ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” was published on Nov. 18, 2008.

Of course, none of the potential candidates are anywhere close to deciding on a White House run, let alone announcing it. But early trips like this one start to introduce the politicians to the local activists and volunteers that fuel the early nominating states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Rubio joked he was surprised “people so far from Florida even care what I have to say.”

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