You’d have thought it was a homecoming dance, what with the power suits, red and blue accent lights and the chandeliers turned down low inside Exhibit Hall B at the Richmond Convention Center.
But it’s a ritual of a different sort: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s annual fundraising breakfast. An estimated 1,800 people are fed while keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., serves his take on the GOP’s vision for America.
Virginia political royalty is among the audience. That’s former U.S. Sen. George Allen, perhaps the entire Republican wing of the General Assembly, Mayor Dwight Jones and the man one of the introductory speakers calls “the only Republican working in city government in Richmond,” City Councilman Bruce Tyler.
Over plates of eggs and biscuits, they listen while Cantor articulates his vision for Congress, which given a tilt toward the GOP could again be about “getting things done.” The rest of the short speech is all sales pitch. This election should be about “reclaiming the spirit of who we are as a country,” he says.
A presumable example of that America is Rubio, the fresh-faced freshman senator and rumored vice presidential candidate. (Cantor takes himself out of contention later in the weekend, saying, “I am not open to that” on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”)
Interspersed between well-received digs at former president Jimmy Carter, Rubio lays out the arc of his personal life. The grandchild of poor workers in rural Cuba, he rose to the U.S. Senate with work and sacrifice.
“Whenever I see the people who serve us or who stand up at the back of the room, I’m reminded of my grandparents,” he says. Most, if not all, of the men and women ferrying water and orange juice into the glasses of the attendees are black. It’s the opportunity that America affords them -- to become successful, to go to college, to start a business -- that defines American democracy, he says.
Rubio draws the distinction between Reagan’s America, in which a person can come from nothing and achieve financial and personal success, and the America of the last three years under President Barack Obama. “Once we become a nation where the employee cannot become the employer, we’ve lost,” he says, eliciting the largest crowd response.