Marco Rubio first to file for South Carolina Republican primary ballot

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio became the first to file to appear on South Carolina’s GOP primary ballot. To his left is Rep. Neal Collins, R-Easley, who notarized the paperwork.

COLUMBIA — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, became the first Republican candidate to file to appear on the party’s South Carolina primary ballot early next year.

The presidential hopeful filed the paperwork on Monday at the state Republican Party’s headquarters in Columbia for the primary, which hasn’t been scheduled but likely will be Feb. 20. He then vowed to protect the environment while also tapping energy resources to help the United States compete and beat other countries in manufacturing.

“I think our country needs to have at its disposal all of our energy resources,” Rubio said. “We will make America the best place in the world to manufacture, and energy is a critical part of that.”

Rubio also talked about crushing student loan debt, and his effort to pass legislation that would address the plight of students, who often graduate owing thousands but stand to make little in the field they chose.

“We cannot continue to do this in our country,” Rubio said. “We cannot continue to graduate people with a mountain of debt unable to find a job to pay the debt not to mention the rest of their lives.”

Rubio declined to get involved in criticizing other candidates vying for the Republican nomination, redirecting the conversation to his view on the Iran nuclear deal when asked about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee comparing it to the Holocaust.

“I think it virtually guarantees that Iran will someday possess a nuclear weapon,” said Rubio of the deal. “It will now provide billions of dollars of sanctions relief that will allow them to sponsor terrorism and to undermine the security not just of Israel, but our allies in the region and ultimately this very country.”

Rubio also declined to talk about Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s spat last week, in which Trump, a real estate mogul and reality TV star, gave out Graham’s personal cellphone number and Graham responded with a video smashing a series of phones. Rubio joked he could give out Graham’s new number.

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Yet Rubio’s decision to not engage in political criticism could be affecting him among voters — a CNN-ORC International poll released Sunday night showed only 7 percent of voters said they would support him for the Republican nomination. Trump led with 19 percent.

“We’re going to have a serious campaign on the issues,” said Rubio, later adding “we’re going to do everything that we can to win this state.”

Rubio was scheduled to spend Monday afternoon and Tuesday participating in events in Greenville.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.