‘Unplugged’ Rubio stumps in Summerville

Republican Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio poses for photos with supporters during a Summerville Town Hall with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott on Tuesday at the Dorchester Boat Club in Summerville.

SUMMERVILLE — Instead of blasting his GOP rivals, presidential hopeful Marco Rubio told a few hundred supporters here why he is most qualified to be the nation’s next commander in chief.

The Florida senator, who serves on the Committee on Foreign Relations, delivered a mostly upbeat 45-minute-long stump speech, but one that warned national security is as relevant today as it was during the Cold War.

He ticked off the nuclear threat from North Korea, China’s theft of U.S. military technology, the rise of the Islamic State and the nation of Iran newly enriched by the recent nuclear deal.

“The world is not getting safer,” he said. “I would argue the world is more dangerous today than in 1980, when Ronald Reagan had to rebuild the military.”

Rubio also vowed to rebuild the military, and in one of just a few swipes at an opponent, noted that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz voted for a budget plan put forth by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul that reduced defense spending.

Rubio also said he would keep any enemy combatants out of the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station. “They’re going to Guantanamo,” he added, drawing one of his loudest bursts of applause from those gathered under the Dorchester Boat Club. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott joined Rubio at the event.

Rubio also touched on the economic concerns of the middle class, the next president’s role in shaping the U.S. Supreme Court and both parties’ unwillingness to tackle the national debt.

And he poked fun at his much-criticized debate performance in New Hampshire, where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie skewered him for repeating the same phrases. “We have a lot of work to do because Barack Obama — at the risk of repeating myself — knows exactly what he was doing.”

His casual banter with the crowd underscored his transformation in the past week — GOP strategist Bruce Haynes described it to Politico as ditching “Robot Rubio” for “Marco Unplugged.” When Rubio joked that the mosquito was South Carolina’s state bird, he also joked about how fact checkers would catch his error, and the audience laughed.

Rubio brushed off the negativity of the Republicans’ campaign here in recent days but warned it must not wait too long to reunite. “This is a divided party right now,” he said. “We’ll eventually come together, but if it’s October, it will be too late.”

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.