The Corner

Rubio Impresses at Woody Johnson Fundraiser

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson’s annual fundraiser has become something of a marquee event for Republican presidential hopefuls, who use it to make their pitches to some of the GOP’s top-dollar donors. 

Johnson is heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and during the 2012 presidential campaign led Mitt Romney’s fundraising operation in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut corridor. Donors use his annual fall event to size up the party’s potential presidential contenders. This year’s get-together took place last night in New York City; New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Florida senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, Ohio governor John Kasich, New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte, and Romney himself were all in attendance. 

One source says it was Rubio, whose remarks focused on America’s role in the world, who most impressed attendees. The first-term senator, says the source, offered a “global vision” for America’s role in the world, and “the need to come back” and talk about it. “It was very uplifting and it was insightful and it was good,” says the source. That’s a bit of a departure from years past, when Rubio has emphasized his personal biography: his humble upbringing and all-American success story. 

Neither Rand Paul nor Chris Christie talked about foreign affairs, says the source. Instead, both emphasized the need for the GOP to reach new audiences. This is a familiar theme for Paul and one of his main selling points. He has spoken to several groups of non-traditional Republican voters during his time in the Senate, from students at the University of California, Berkeley, to the NAACP to the Latino Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and, in the Senate, sponsored a bill to do away with mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders. 

Christie has sounded some of the same notes, and did so last night, according to the source, by pushing to reform drug policy: He favors sending non-violent drug abusers to rehab rather than to prison, and made the case to donors last night that it costs less, too. 

Kasich is waltzing to victory in his reelection race in Ohio — thanks in large part to the implosion of his Democratic opponent — and the source described him as “intense” and “fast-talking.” It goes without saying that he “painted a rosy picture of what’s happening in Ohio.”

Current events have put foreign affairs at the center of political discussion, and the contrast between Rubio’s message and those of his potential 2016 rivals suggests he’s a little more comfortable talking about the world than are some of his competitors, who are at an earlier stage in studying up on those issues. (Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal gave a speech on defense at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday and delivers another on at the Citadel on Tuesday.) 

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