ALTOONA - Sen. Marco Rubio said the way to turn around the nation's struggling economy is not to raise taxes on the wealthiest individuals, but rather to make "poor people richer" as he visited this politically important state in a trip certain to stoke speculation about Rubio's plans.
Ostensibly, Rubio's visit to this early nominating state was for Gov. Terry Branstad's birthday party. But the political implications of Rubio's visit were clear from the start as the Republican Party looks ahead to 2016's presidential contest.
"For Gov. Branstad's birthday, his 66th," Rubio said, flashing a grin when asked what he was doing in the state.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks with Gov. Terry Branstad, left, during Branstad's annual birthday fundraiser, Saturday.
But his birthday wishes for Branstad were more like a roadmap for his party looking for a new direction and an argument for a Rubio presidential campaign.
Lower taxes to spur economic growth. A compassionate immigration overhaul to help those who want to become Americans. Reduced regulation to let small businesses grow. Stronger families to give children more stability at home.
In a 24-minute, campaign-style pitch to fellow Republicans, Rubio ticked through conservative goals while urging his party not to lose hope in the wake of Mitt Romney's loss on Election Day. He said the results should not be taken as a rejection of Republicans' views.
"We need to do a better job of going out and convincing our fellow Americans who perhaps don't see things the way we do," Rubio said.
At the center of that sales pitch: higher take-home pay for all Americans.
"The way to turn our economy around is not by making rich people poorer, it's by making poor people richer," Rubio said, criticizing President Barack Obama's insistence that taxes for those making more than $250,000 increase as part of a deal to avoid pending automatic budget cuts and tax hikes.
Rubio also blamed Congress for that looming threat.
"Look at this fiscal cliff. I don't know if any of you have heard about this," Rubio said to chuckles. "You know who created that? Congress."
Rubio, once considered a possible Romney running mate, is seen as a rising star among Republicans. Charismatic and youthful, the 41-year-old stands in sharp contrast to the 65-year-old Romney, who struggled to connect with voters.
"I've been sensing a lot of folks are just trying to figure out what this all means in this new era, with this election having passed," Rubio told reporters.
"I think we're all going to move on and move forward," Rubio said.