A group of protesting "dreamers" who crashed a large GOP fundraiser this week in Anderson, S.C., may have inadvertently given Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio a bit more clout among the hard-liners who turned against him after his immigration bill last year.
Rubio was the headline speaker at a "Faith and Freedom" barbecue fundraiser for Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan, a tea party favorite from what many consider the state's most conservative House district, CNN
The Florida senator, a likely presidential candidate for 2016, took the stage after other South Carolina Republican favorites such as Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley, and was quickly interrupted by a group of protesters who identified themselves as "dreamers," or immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
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After they accused Rubio of leaving behind the immigration package he sponsored after it was opposed by other Republicans, a Republican operative was overheard telling a reporter, "I couldn't think of a better way to make Rubio look good in South Carolina," CNN reported.
And as the crowd jeered and Rubio waited for security to take the protesters away, he loudly told them that "we are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws. You're doing harm to your own cause because you don't have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States."
CNN reports that one audience member shoved one of the protesters and another, 73-year-old veteran Turk Culberson, followed them out, waving his cane at them.
"I let my temper get the better of me," Culberson said later. "But there was no place for that kind of thing. If you don't want to hear what he has to say, don't come."
One of the hecklers, Charlotte, N.C., resident Oliver Merino, said outside the fundraiser that he plans to follow Rubio and protest whenever he speaks.
Further, Merino, who belongs to the DREAM Organizing Network, said Rubio won't win over the Hispanic vote even if he does win the GOP nomination.
"He wants people like me to be deported," Merino said of Rubio, who is Cuban American. "He doesn't stand with our community. We want people to know that. Wherever he goes, we will let him know that."
The Florida senator appears to be stirring up the immigration reform fight once again, on both sides of the issue. On Tuesday, he sent a letter
to President Barack Obama, asking him not to take executive action on illegal immigration and to instead work with Congress on realistic, "sequential" reform.
But on Monday, after the hecklers were kicked out of the fundraiser, CNN reports, the hardliner Republican crowd was Rubio's, as he lambasted everything from President Barack Obama's foreign policies to the nation's tax laws.
"That crowd was with him 100 percent," MaryAnn Riley, a longtime member of the Spartanburg County Republican Women, told CNN, but said she's open to supporting other potential candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former nominee Mitt Romney.
Even Duncan, who opposes Rubio's immigration plans, said after the speech that the Florida senator "believes in faith and freedom," and Graham had even more generous remarks, saying Rubio is "the son of Ronald Reagan when it comes to national security."
The appearance was Rubio's first trip to South Carolina in two years, and before his speech, he spent Monday in closed-door sessions with potential backers and activists, many of whom after also compared him to Reagan.
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