- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio made a whirlwind stop in Arizona on Wednesday as he tries to drum up support for his 2016 campaign.

Rubio gave a speech to business and political leaders and planned to headline an evening fundraiser for the group that backed a 2014 religious freedom law that opponents say would have allowed discrimination against gays.

That legislation, backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, set off a national firestorm but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.

The Florida senator focused solely on possible GOP supporters Wednesday and rejected opportunities to talk to the media. Both events were closed to the press. He brushed by an Associated Press reporter on the way into the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon event without taking questions and again on his way out.

“I’m not doing interviews today,” Rubio said. “I don’t have time, it’s not on the schedule.”

Rubio’s hesitation to take questions comes as he tries to woo both the moderate and conservative wings of the Arizona Republican Party. The business wing of the party opposed last year’s religious freedom law, Senate Bill 1062, while the conservative wing pushed it through the Legislature in record time.

Rubio’s effort to be all things to all elements of the party didn’t surprise Democrats.

“It sends a message that Marco Rubio’s trying to be all things to all people, just like he has been with immigration reform,” Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said. “He was a co-sponsor of the Gang of Eight immigration reform. As soon as it was no longer politically sound for the conservatives in his party he abandoned it, but in Spanish, he’ll still say that he’s pro-comprehensive immigration reform.”

Rubio is the first declared GOP presidential candidate to make a campaign stop in Arizona. The Republican presidential primary is a crowded field, with more than a half-dozen declared candidates and more expected.

Rubio’s visit to the Center for Arizona Policy event is advertised as a chance to hear from “one of America’s foremost defenders of fundamental freedoms.”

“Along with Senator Rubio, CAP President Cathi Herrod will share our ongoing efforts to promote and defend freedom at the state legislature and throughout Arizona,” according to a flyer for the event at private Arizona Christian University, which is run by CAP’s founder, Len Munsil.

Those who attended the Chamber event described Rubio’s speech as an uplifting talk on how Republicans can improve the economy.

“It was an inspiration economic message,” said Paul Senseman, a former spokesman for Brewer.


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