Hardly a month has passed since the end of presidential campaign 2012, but in a hotel ballroom here Tuesday night, campaign 2016 seemed almost in sight.
Two leading lights of the Republican Party -- Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and former vice presidential nominee, and Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator who was a frequent presence on the campaign trail with Mitt Romney this year -- unveiled post-election messages, perhaps with an eye toward their future political ambitions.
Rubio, who was honored with a leadership award from the Jack Kemp Foundation, honed in on a message of strengthening the middle class through a limited government that promotes policies he said will spur job creation, enhance access to affordable healthcare, and expand educational opportunities to build a strong workforce.
"Government has a role to play. And we must make sure that it does its part. But it's a supporting role: to help create the conditions that enable prosperity in our private economy. That's a crucial role but a necessarily limited one. It can't substitute for what it is meant to enable -- a thriving free economy," Rubio said. "It is not the ever-expanding reach of government, but rather having access to the benefits of a thriving economy that allows the poor to rise into the middle class. Not by making rich people poorer, but by making poor people richer."
In his first major speech since the Nov. 6 election, Ryan appeared to distance himself from Romney's controversial remarks during the campaign about how "47 percent" of Americans are government-dependent and would never vote for a Republican, and his post-election assessment that President Obama managed to win by offering "gifts" to certain groups, particularly minorities.
"Both parties tend to divide Americans into 'our voters' and 'their voters,'" Ryan said. "Republicans must steer far clear of that trap."
He added that Kemp "hated the idea that any part of America could be written off."
Rubio, who notably did not mention Romney once in his speech, expressed a similar sentiment.
"Some say that our problem is that the American people have changed. That too many people want things from government," Rubio said. "But I am still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people just want what my parents had -- a chance. A real chance to earn a good living, and provide even better opportunities for their children.
Rubio recounted an encounter he had with three hotel workers who saw his speech at the Republican National Convention, during which he told the story of his father -- a Cuban immigrant who worked as a bartender to provide a better future for his family.
"They had seen my speech at the Republican Convention, where I told the story of my father the banquet bartender. And they had a gift for me. They presented me with this name tag, which says 'Rubio, Banquet Bartender,'" Rubio said while holding the name tag in his hand. "You know what this reminds me of? This reminds me that there are millions of Mario Rubio's all across America today. They aren't looking for a handout. They just want a job that provides for their families."
The two GOP heavyweights made only passing references to the fight brewing in the nation's Capitol over how to handle how the impending fiscal cliff. Rubio cited his opposition to Obama's desire to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while Ryan stressed that a debt crisis is coming unless action is taken soon.