CNN — A rising Republican star who many say embodies the future of the GOP, Sen. Marco Rubio toyed with 2016 presidential speculators Saturday at an event in Iowa.
Well aware of the state's political importance and the undertones that come with making the trip to the battleground state, Rubio quickly cut to the chase.
"I am not, nor will I ever be, a candidate for ... offensive coordinator of Iowa. I know there's rumors," he joked to Iowans at a fundraiser for Gov. Terry Branstad's birthday, adding he would have been in the NFL "if not for my lack of size, speed and talent."
There were laughs, but the announcement of Rubio's trip last week to the Hawkeye State drew even further speculation of a possible 2016 bid for the White House.
In his speech, Rubio focused on the future, mentioning this year's GOP standard bearer just once before pivoting to a broad discussion of solutions and goals for the party in the coming years. Mitt Romney, Rubio said, is an "extraordinary person" who he hopes "stays involved in the American political process."
Many Republicans are left with a bitter taste in their mouths after Romney failed to nab the Oval Office, but Rubio cleansed Iowa conservatives' palates with talk about "limited-government conservatism" and topics ranging from tax reform and the fiscal cliff to the national debt, energy policies and modernization of the immigration system.
"The way to turn our economy around is not by making rich people poorer. It's by making poor people richer," the Florida senator said. "Big government doesn't help the people who are trying to make it. It hurts them."
In a state with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States, Rubio said, "the country can learn a lot from Iowa."
"Governor Branstad is an example of what government can do to help an economy grow and help the middle class be prosperous," he said.
Following the speech, Branstad returned the praise, calling Rubio "the kind of inspirational leader that will help point us in the right direction."
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By Dana Davidsen