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Rubio gains big Pennsylvania endorsement, rolls out energy policy

| Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, 9:07 a.m.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a GOP candidate for president, serves as keynote speaker Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh for Republican candidates for state House.
Salena Zito | Trib Total Media
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a GOP candidate for president, serves as keynote speaker Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh for Republican candidates for state House.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a GOP candidate for president, serves as keynote speaker Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh for Republican candidates for state House.
Salena Zito | Trib Total Media
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a GOP candidate for president, serves as keynote speaker Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh for Republican candidates for state House.
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, endorses U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for president on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, during a fundraiser in Pittsburgh.
Salena Zito | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, endorses U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for president on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, during a fundraiser in Pittsburgh.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took his campaign for president through Pennsylvania to Ohio this week, raising money, collecting endorsements and rolling out his energy policy.

“My energy plan is based on three priorities: minimizing government bureaucracy, maximizing private innovation and optimizing America's resources,” Rubio said after touring BOC Water Hydraulics in Salem, Ohio, just south of Youngstown.

Rubio spent Friday morning in Pittsburgh, where Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai endorsed him during a Republican fundraiser.

Organizer Michael DeVanney said more than 620 attendees contributed to the event.

It's one of six fundraisers Rubio attended in Pennsylvania during the previous 24 hours, including four in Philadelphia. DeVanney said. Rubio will raise more than $600,000 during his Pennsylvania swing; the Florida senator collected about $6 million during the July-to-September quarter.

Rubio said his visit and energy policy gets to the heart of what this election is about: first by showing how energy has transformed the economy in Ohio and Pennsylvania and second because that economic boom underscores how an outdated political establishment in Washington holds the country back from achieving its full potential.

“Not only do we have an abundance of oil and coal and natural gas, but we also have an unparalleled capability to leverage these into prosperity through the miracle of American free enterprise,” he said, adding that the energy market is still very hindered by the government's regulatory bureaucracy.

“The results are fewer choices, fewer jobs and higher prices for our people,” Rubio said.

Rubio's energy event in the Mahoning Valley is a clear sign of the “long game,” and even the “longer game,” for his presidential aspirations, explained Jeff Brauer, political science professor at Keystone College. “Rubio seems poised to emerge as a frontrunner, and even the eventual nominee, once actual primary voting begins,” Brauer said.

The key to Rubio winning the nomination is him winning the Ohio primary, Brauer said.

Iowa State University professor Steffen Schmidt says Rubio is not banking on wins in the early contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. “That is smart because this year is different: Different Republicans will probably do well in different state primaries, so he is hoping to be one of the big boys going into a brokered GOP convention,” Schmidt said.

Ohio primary voters head to the polls March 15. Earning the hearts and minds of Buckeye State voters could be critically important for the eventual nominee since no Democrat or Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio in the general election since 1960.

Ohio has long served as a microcosm, especially for Republican politics, so Rubio can't begin to campaign there too early or too often, Brauer said. “And bringing a message of energy independence to Ohio is right on; energy policy impacts the heart of two other issues Ohio voters are very concerned about: jobs and national security,” he said.

Rival Jeb Bush rolled out his energy policy in suburban Pittsburgh Sept. 29. Bush told the Tribune-Review that visiting states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio is part of his long-game strategy. Bush was governor of Florida when Rubio was in the state legislature.

“Rubio is playing a little catch-up on domestic issues,” said South Carolina GOP strategist Chip Felkel, explaining that Rubio's early emphasis was on his foreign policy chops.

“I think it's indicative of the battle that is clearly emerging between these two candidates, not only in Florida, but elsewhere,” Felkel said.

Rubio told the Ohio crowd that in Washington, squandering America's energy potential is another day at the office: “But for families all across this country, it's deeply personal because energy is not just an industry. Energy is every industry, energy touches every business, every worker and every household in America.”

Brauer said, “Midwest voters are serious about real policy ideas and they especially value strong national security solutions. Rubio and his energy message will play well in Ohio.”

Rubio and other Republican candidates must compete against Ohio Gov. John Kasich's home-field advantage. Kasich, who also seeks the GOP nomination, surged to an all-time ratings high last week with 62 percent of Ohioans telling Quinnipiac University pollsters they approve of the job their governor is doing.

Rubio is polling fourth nationally among 14 Republican presidential candidates with 9.9 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com.

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