Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio told an anti-gay marriage group Saturday the country is relying too much on the government, in part because of a breakdown of family and faith values over the last 50 years.
"You know what the fastest growing religion in America is? Statism. The growing reliance on government," Rubio said. "Every time a problem emerges, increasingly the reaction in American society is 'Well what can government do about it?'"
America became the greatest country because of its strong society where people did not sit back and wait for government to act, he said. "They did it themselves," Rubio said.
Rubio, a lock for the GOP nomination now that Gov. Charlie Crist has decided to run as an independent, spent the day reinforcing conservative values, capped with a speech before the group that led the effort to put a gay marriage ban in the state constitution.
He said the strongest institution in society is the family, and that children raised in stable families are privileged no matter what their income.
"We can not continue to allow this over reliance on government to replace the cornerstone institution that has made the American experience possible," he said.
Earlier in the day, Rubio met with Republican activists and attended a gun show in Orlando.
Through it all, he maintained his campaign was mainstream. The candidate who used the energy of the tea party to rise from nowhere said he'll continue talking about the same things now that he's virtually assured the nomination. The primary is in August.
"The things I believe in I think are mainstream thoughts in America. I believe that our tax code is too complicated and too burdensome, I think America is spending money it doesn't have and it's going to bankrupt us, I think the world is a safer place when America is the strongest country in the world," Rubio said. "Sixty to 70 percent of Americans agree with my position on those issues."
Walking around the gun show he was well received, with many vendors and attendees congratulated him on overcoming the huge advantage Crist had in the polls and in fundraising at the beginning of the race. Crist, who changed his voter registration from Republican to no party affiliation last week, announced last month he would run without party backing.
Gun vendor Khaled Akkawi offered to host a fundraiser for Rubio, who has a concealed weapons permit but hasn't owned a gun in four years.
"I didn't support him 100 percent until Crist went independent," Akkawi said. He contributed to Crist when he ran for attorney general in 2002 and governor in 2006, but hadn't donated to Crist's Senate campaign because Rubio caught his attention about six months ago.
The gun show offered several candidates a chance to win over Republican voters. At least six Republican statewide candidates including governor hopefuls Bill McCollum and Rick Scott attended the event, compared to no Democratic statewide candidates. Rubio shrugged off the idea that he is forging a conservative path.
"This is a cross section of the people of Florida — all ethnicities, all party registrations are here. People from all walks of life are here," Rubio said while walking by tables with Uzis, pistols and rifles. "The Second Amendment is a constitutional right. I didn't make it up, the Republican Party didn't make it up. It's in the Constitution. I think it's just as important as any of the other rights in our constitution."
© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.