JOHNSTON — Marco Rubio believes he is the best Republican presidential candidate to face Democrat Hillary Clinton in this fall’s general election, and he reminded roughly 500 people of that on Saturday morning at a town hall campaign event in this Des Moines suburb.
Rubio, who is in third place in most recent polls on the GOP race in Iowa, behind Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, made both primary and general election pitches during Saturday morning’s event, the first of four scheduled for the day.
Rubio has five more Iowa events scheduled Monday.
Rubio said he understands Republican voters are angry with the government, but said that it’s not enough just to be angry, that a candidate must also “know what to do about it.”
And he said he “cannot wait to run against Hillary Clinton,” who many Republicans appear to presume will be the Democratic nominee.
The race in Iowa is tight between Clinton and Sanders, according to polls, and Sanders leads Clinton in some New Hampshire polls.
General electability was a draw for Rubio supporter Greg Willey, of Ankeny, who said he skipped his monthly Saturday morning coffee meeting with fellow conservatives to attend the event in Johnston.
Willey said his favorite candidates are Rubio and Cruz, and that he considers the two very similar, but fears Cruz “probably has alienated” some potential general election voters. Willey dismissed Trump as “a loose cannon” and “entertainment.”
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“I think (Rubio) is electable. The goal is to beat Hillary,” Willey said. “I think he will get more undecided voters.”
Rubio also is on the short list of general election candidates being considered by Rick Ryan, of Des Moines, who describes himself as a no-party voter who likely will skip the caucuses and vote in the general election. Ryan said he also likes Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
“He’s got a lot of nice thoughts about immigration,” Ryan said of Rubio.
A woman in the crowd Saturday morning quizzed Rubio on immigration, saying she fears a mass deportation policy would create “social unrest.”
Rubio said the priority on immigration policy should be to improve the legal immigration process by hiring 20,000 more border patrol agents, completing 700 miles of border fencing, and using technological programs like electronic verification for employers.
Once those issues are addressed, Rubio said, the nation can turn its attention to the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. Rubio said he believes anyone who has been in the U.S. fewer than a dozen years must return, and criminals will be deported.
The others, Rubio said, would be allowed to step forward, pass a background check, pay fines and taxes, and receive a 10-year worker’s permit. After those 10 years, they could apply for a green card.
“That’s not amnesty. And it’s a reasonable approach,” Rubio said, addressing conservatives who criticize any immigration policy that allows immigrants here illegally to remain as amnesty. “You’re not going to round up and deport 12 million people. You’re not. … It’s not as simple as some of the people make it sound.”