Republicans Flock to Florida - 5 Takeaways

Rick Scott gathers all the 2016 contenders in Orlando

ORLANDO, Florida— -- Seven major Republican presidential candidates took the stage today in a conference center at Disney World -- separately -- to talk about their plans for the U.S. economy.

They answered questions from the audience at the Economic Growth Summit at the invitation of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has said he is using this forum, in part, to determine whom he'll endorse in the 2016 race.

A few things became clear:

1) There's a fight over Social Security.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently spoke in favor of raising the retirement age for Social-Security benefits and said we should consider doling out benefits based on means. Chris Christie has stumped for limiting Social-Security benefits for the wealthy.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had some harsh words for anyone who thinks that way, calling it a "recipe not just for political suicide, but for economic suicide." Huckabee said that amounts to telling people who've paid into Social Security that "we're going to steal from you" and "we're going to lie to you."

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, taking the stage later, offered some equally harsh words.

"If you don't talk about the 71 percent [of the federal budget spent on entitlements] in my view, you have no right to talk about the other 29 percent," Christie said. Of politicians who say it's not a problem that needs addressing, Christie said, "They're not telling you the truth."

The field has a legitimate policy debate over this, and it's heating up.

2) Scott wants everyone to campaign in Florida

A theme for Scott at his summit was that he wants all candidates to campaign here.

Scott told ABC at the summit that none of the candidates have told him they won't compete in his state. The governor said he hopes all candidates campaign in Florida and that he believes the candidate with the best economic plans will win.

Of course, the presence of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio--Florida's former governor and sitting senator, respectively--in the 2016 race might make other candidates think twice. Florida carries 29 delegates into 2016, the third largest total of any state, but it will award them on a winner-take-all basis, meaning a 2016 contender would get no points for taking second place there. Plus, it's an expensive state in which to campaign.

3) Candidates push back on the notion that they won't campaign here

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faulted the media for interpreting recent comments as a signal that he might consider skipping Florida.

“If I didn’t think I could compete, I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t have made four trips to Florida," Walker said.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, similarly, was unequivocal: "If I do decide to run, I would absolutely compete in Florida," he said.

And Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, seemingly averse to talking campaign strategy, refused to be pinned down, saying he'll "have to see how candidates fall in and out."

Declining to break down how much time he'd spend in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada, Huckabee added, "I don't even know who my opponents are."

4) GOPers seem to know they have to make up ground with minorities

That was a big emphasis in the party's post-2012 analysis of why Mitt Romney lost to President Obama, and many of the candidates touched on that.

"If you want to send the message to those communities [that] we care about you, we care about the future of your children, it’s graduate them from high school," Rick Perry said.

"My message is not going to vary by group," Walker told reporters after his speech.

5) Rand Paul vs. the GOP -- it's still a thing

And we saw two different approaches to the question.

In an apparent swipe at Paul, Christie bemoaned the demonization of compromise in Washington: "“We see that right now, people standing up blocking things, giving endless speeches, being self-important, not really in the business of governing."

Bush, who has backed extending the Patriot Act in full, told reporters, “I don’t ascribe any bad motives to the guy, I just think he’s wrong about it," declining to make the conversation about Paul and pointing to Democrats who also opposed extending NSA surveillance authorities.