Rubio mixes with NH voters at Patriots-Dolphins game party

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ATKINSON, N.H. —  A sea of Patriots jerseys mingled with Marco Rubio posters and an odd Dolphins shirt Sunday as football fans joined the Florida Senator and Republican presidential contender at a game viewing party that doubled as a campaign event.

Rubio’s campaign hosted the get-together with New Hampshire voters at the Atkinson Country Club, just across the state line from Haverhill, Massachusetts, to watch as the candidate’s Miami Dolphins took on the New England Patriots in Florida.

“There’s some analogy here,” he told the crowd. “The Dolphins are my favorite team, I grew up watching them, and they need to be rebuilt. They’ve gotten away from the things that made them successful a long time ago. And in so many ways, our country has done the same.”

Speaking before the kickoff, Rubio went after President Barack Obama, declaring that once he gets to the White House, he will repeal Obama’s executive orders, including whatever he cooks up this week to tighten gun controls.

We are going to repeal every single one of the unlawful, unconstitutional executive orders of this president,” Rubio told the crowd, to applause. “All the overreaches by the EPA are gone on day one. Any effort to impose Common Core in our schools by the federal government is gone on day one. Any of these gun control things he’s now doing to undermine the Second Amendment will be gone on day one. The deal with Iran will be gone on day one.”

In launching into an abbreviated stump speech, Rubio criticized Obama for either forgetting or simply not believing in what makes America great.

Obama doesn’t believe in free enterprise, and wants the government to take over our country, our health care, and our schools, Rubio said. Obama, he added, thinks America is an arrogant power that needs to be humbled and atone for past sins.  As president, Rubio said, Obama has “weakened the military, undermined our allies and cut deals with our enemies.”

Rubio said Obama has moved the country in the wrong direction.

The first term senator from Florida also sought to portray himself as Republican’s best choice to take on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former Secretary of State, New York Senator and First Lady.

Compared with Clinton, Rubio said he has much more in common with the average American: He has had to pay off student loans and live paycheck-to-paycheck while raising his four children.

Turning to critics who have faulted his stance on immigration issues, the son of Cuban immigrants declared that legal immigration is good for America, but added that he believes the nature of immigration has changed. He talked about the need to block the pathways used to gain entry to the country illegally, and he said every immigrant granted admission to the country should first pass security checks to ensure they aren’t a threat to national security.

While Rubio touched on serious campaign issues, he sought to keep the atmosphere light to help him connect with Granite State voters in a more casual way than the question-and-answer sessions that characterize town-hall style meetings. He cracked jokes and laughed at the good-natured heckling as attendees shouted out,  “Go Rubio, go Pats” when he took the podium to speak before the game.

“I hear people say, ‘Are you old enough to be president?’ You know how I know I’m old enough to be president? I remember when the Dolphins were good,” he said, drawing laughs from his audience.

Rubio walked around the room to mingle with voters who lined up to pose for pictures with the candidate, asking him to sign copies of his book or campaign paraphernalia. Some buttonholed him on policy matters, but every now and then the candidate paused to check the score on one of the video screens set up around the ballroom as the Dolphins took an early lead over the Pats.

The candidate and football go back a long way. Rubio played football as a youth and won a football scholarship to Tarkio College in Missouri before eventually graduating from the University of Florida and the University of Miami Law School. His wife, Jeanette, was on the Dolphins cheerleader squad for the team in 1997, the year before they were married.

As a youngster, Rubio had to wear leg braces to correct a knee problem, but he resisted putting them on. In an essay he wrote for The Daily Caller website to commemorate Father’s Day in June 2014, Rubio recalled how his Dad, Mario, took advantage of his football aspirations to get him to wear the braces. His father, a bartender, called him on those days, impersonating Don Shula, then the head coach of the Dolphins, to tell his son that he would never play for the team if he didn’t wear those braces. It worked.

Rubio left at halftime for a town-hall style meeting in Raymond, east of Manchester, at which point the Dolphins led the Pats, 10 to 3. So he missed getting the last laugh on the assembled Patriots fans when his underdog team walked away with a 20-10 win.

Heading into the afternoon, Rubio expressed optimism about the outcome.

“I win today either way,” he told the Atkinson crowd. “If the Dolphins win today, they won. If they lose, they get a better draft pick.”