Obama comparisons trail young senators seeking GOP nod
By Associated Press | February 5, 2016, 6:12 EST
PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire (AP) — Some Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz supporters get the irony.
After seven years of Republicans holding up President Barack Obama’s one term in the U.S. Senate as evidence of naivete and inexperience, these voters find themselves rallying around — you guessed it — one-term senators.
“I do think that’s been one of President Barack Obama’s weaknesses,” said Dee Mitchell, a 64-year-old Rubio supporter from Dover, New Hampshire. She said she had considered Rubio’s short Senate career, but “In the whole overall decision making, I decided it didn’t play enough of a part.”
Rubio was elected to represent Florida in the Senate in 2010, with Cruz winning his Texas Senate seat two years later. Rubio’s term ends in January, and he’s not seeking re-election.
After Cruz’s victory in Iowa and Rubio’s stronger-than-expected third-place finish, some of their rivals are urging voters in New Hampshire to keep the comparisons to Obama in mind when they vote in Tuesday’s primary.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has staked his White House hopes on New Hampshire, has been leading the charge. While Christie has been a governor about as long as Rubio has been a senator, he casts the experience of those in Congress as less valuable than that of a chief executive of a state.
“They’ve been first-term United States senators,” he said of Rubio and Cruz during a town hall event Wednesday night in Bow. “They know a little bit about government, but they’ve never run a thing in their lives.”
“That’s got to matter,” Christie added. “Because we’ve watched it matter for the last several years.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also targeted Rubio in particular for lacking experience. On Thursday, Bush’s campaign pointed to MSNBC and CNN interviews with Rick Santorum and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey in which they struggled to name Rubio’s top accomplishment. Former Sen. Santorum endorsed Rubio after ending his own presidential campaign.
In a fundraising email, Bush’s campaign crowed, “Literally, they could name not one accomplishment!”
Mike Murphy, who heads Bush’s super PAC, cited Rubio’s short Senate tenure as one of the reasons he would lose to Hillary Clinton if she’s the Democratic nominee. “Never been tested in a crisis. 5-year junior Senator. Not ready to be president,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.
Interviews with about two dozen New Hampshire residents who are committed to backing either Rubio or Cruz, or leaning toward voting for one of the senators, suggest voters are already well aware of the comparisons to Obama and the candidates’ short Senate careers.
But some just don’t care.
“No one is prepared to be president. No one,” said Claude Malo, a 71-year-old Rubio supporter from Dover. Malo said he typically prefers voting for governors over senators, but he added, “I don’t care how long they’ve been governor. That job, you grow into it.”
Helena Garbarini, who was attending a Cruz rally in Portsmouth on Thursday, said that given her frustration with Washington and some Republican Party leaders, she’d rather vote for someone who hasn’t spent several years in elected office.
“I think we need someone who isn’t embedded in the system,” said Garbarini, 64.
While Rubio has two more years Senate experience than Cruz, the Obama comparisons have seemed to trail him more closely than his Texas counterpart. That’s in part because Rubio has infused his presidential run with other echoes of Obama’s first campaign, including a heavy emphasis on his family history.
The senator has repeatedly tried to beat back the notion that he’s a Republican version of Obama, telling CBS News last month that Obama “is not a bad president because he was a one-term senator.”
“It was his ideology and his ideas that has set America back,” he said.
Phil Davis, a 42-year-old Rubio backer from Dover, said that instead of discrediting the notion of electing a one-term senator, Republicans should view it as “the way of the future.”
“Maybe they don’t know it, but it’s something that they need,” Davis said.
— Written by Julie Pace