For the second time in just eight days, President Barack Obama put a bull’s-eye on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s back, telling Florida voters the Republican incumbent will “say anything” to keep his seat.
Obama traveled to Orlando, Florida, on Friday afternoon and delivered much of his final speech as head of the Democratic Party, touting what he sees as his top achievements. On a day the FBI announced it was looking anew into emails related to a private server that she used as secretary of State, Obama also trumpeted the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
But the strikingly popular Obama (his approval ratings hit 55 percent Friday, the highest of his second term and matching the high point of his first) made clear he fired up Air Force One with the Florida Senate race between Rubio and Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy in mind.
“All the progress we’ve made over these eight years goes out the window if we don’t win this election,” Obama told the University of Central Florida audience. “The stakes could not be higher.”
That plea is consistent with the Clinton campaign’s use of the president and his wife, Michelle, to try to motivate Democratic voters to turn out in large numbers in key swing states like Florida. A similar call to action is expected on Tuesday, when Obama campaigns in Ohio, a perennial battleground state that appears up for grabs in the presidential race.
Obama labeled Clinton a “hard worker” and then branded Murphy with the same moniker.
“Unlike his opponent, Marco Rubio, Patrick actually shows up to his job. He puts you ahead of politics,” Obama said to applause. “He didn’t try to defund Planned Parenthood. He fought to make sure women could make their own health care decisions.”
“He didn’t say he was supportive of Florida’s Latino community, but then when the politics got tough, you walk away from comprehensive immigration reform,” he added, a swipe at Rubio’s involvement-turned-distance from an immigration overhaul bill that stalled in 2013.
The president drew boos when he pointed out that Rubio still plans to vote for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“For some voters, Marco Rubio will say, ‘I think that what Donald Trump said is terrible,’” Obama said, referring to Trump’s lewd remarks about his pursuit of women revealed in a leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape. “But then in front of other voters, he’ll say, ‘Well, I’m still supporting Donald Trump.’”
“You know what, you can’t have it both ways here,” the president said. He later asserted that Trump “brags about assaulting women.”
“This is as cynical as politics get,” he said. “If you run for office on family values, you should have been walking away from a nominee, months ago, who was calling women pigs or dogs or slobs.”
Obama also accused Rubio of not believing in science and rejecting scientists who’ve concluded that sea levels are rising in places like Miami. In contrast, he said, Murphy has fought for Everglades restoration and will support a pro-environment Clinton agenda, should she win.
Obama even led the crowd in a “Patrick-Patrick-Patrick” chant.
Target on his back
Rubio has been a target for Obama and White House officials for some time. En route to Orlando, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that Obama feels that “Sen. Rubio has a long record that he should be held accountable for.”
Murphy is getting a cash boost from donors and a Democratic super PAC as his campaign shows signs of life in his race against Rubio.
Mike Fernandez, a Republican donor based in Miami, announced he would give $100,000 to a super PAC supporting Murphy, citing Murphy’s support for ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
National Democrats appeared a few weeks ago to be throwing in the towel in Florida. Senate Majority PAC had canceled $6 million in advertising for Murphy. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which endorsed him against Rep. Alan Grayson in the primary, delayed pro-Murphy advertising.
Although Obama remains the technical head of the party, his top aides are staying out of the debate about the national Democrats’ decision.
“I’m familiar with how complicated it is to make decisions regarding spending,” Schultz said Friday, saying he would not “second-guess” the decision.