The forecast for Wednesday was rain, but when I got up at 6 a.m. – can you believe it, seeing dawn two days in a row! – it was clear and bright. Today’s first stop was with Marco Rubio who had a town hall scheduled for 8, doors opening at 7, about 20 minutes north near Hookset at a place called Fieldhouse Sports.
Fieldhouse is a great facility: basketball courts, tennis courts, batting cages, you name it, and all clean and new-looking. A snack bar from which the Rubaiyats were handing out free coffee. We were on a basketball court, with folding chairs set up around four sides of a square platform that was raised about ten inches off the court and that held the mandatory props: microphone, stool, bottle of water. Every candidate so far has had this same setup.
The crowd of about 200 is varied in age, with 20-somethings mixed in among middle-agers and as always, enough gray heads that I don’t feel old. Country music playing but not too loud. I’m sitting next to a guy my age who’s a fellow political tourist, not his first time, up from New Jersey with two buddies. They are across the way in a small grandstand but he came over to this side as the lighting told him the candidate would likely have his back to the grandstand. He turns out to be right. I’m gaining lots of useful insights here.
I see two youngish black men in the crowd; they’re the first African-Americans I have seen at an event. As a veteran political reporter I grasp immediately that this means Sen. Rubio will be our next president.
The candidate is introduced by some state representative career politician Irish type from central casting, a thinner Tip O’Neill, who is happy to be here and happy we’re here and happy to introduce the senator. He is a former Pataki supporter!! (So there really was one!) I grasp immediately that Sen. Rubio will not be our next president.
The candidate himself, heedless of fate, now appears and bounds onto the platform. His speech is fairly short as he’s really here for the Q&A, but the speech is notable to me for not mentioning his rivals, of either party, and not even much mentioning himself, except the obligatory note of his immigrant parents. Instead he talks about the country and especially about the future, with enough reference to the best things in our past to show what we’ve been given to build upon. It’s a serious speech and an uplifting one, delivered with conviction and a lot of eye contact.
Then he turns right to the questions, and the first is from a woman who says she has her own small business (but not too small: 15 employees) but is disabled (in some undisclosed way that seems to be mental or developmental) and wants to know how to get big companies to find ways to better employ people with disabilities. Rubio’s answer is fairly detailed, about evaluation and non-stereotyping, matching the right jobs with the right people, not limiting the disabled to entry-level or lower-level work. It lets him talk about how both his grandfather (polio) and father (a sandlot baseball injury, of all things, that left him with nerve damage and a dropped foot) were disabled and struggled to find work they’d be allowed to do. It’s a lengthy answer and midway through I stop watching Rubio and watch the woman who asked the question, about ten feet from me. She is not rapidly nodding like the social-issues voters I see ask about Planned Parenthood or gay marriage, who hang on the automatic affirmation they know their candidate will give. This woman is just listening, carefully. At the end she pushes her lips together, raises her eyebrows and sits back, and nods her head once.
Questions follow on military procurement, nuclear power (it’s clean, it’s safe, he supports it), ‘Medicare Advantage’ (he supports it; I don’t know what it is); the corporate tax rate (should be 25%, don’t push companies out of the country), and others. Rubio then stays while a large scrum of people converge to shake his hand, get his autograph, take a picture. (Yes I got one, to be posted.) His aides keep telling him he has to go, and he keeps ignoring them until everyone is satisfied.
When I get to the doors I see the skies have opened and it’s absolutely teeming outside. Fortunately my umbrella is safe in the car, not at risk of going out in the rain getting wet. Why did I park so far away? I hustle out but can’t miss the chance to stop for a second and take a photo of Rubio’s campaign bus , which wasn’t there when I arrived. It’s really nice looking; I bet they even have towels inside.