At a time when he's the focus of national political attention, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told a crowd of ardent Pinellas County supporters Saturday night that the economy is getting better.
But, he said, it's not happening fast enough.
"I'm glad unemployment's going down," he said. "I'm glad the stock market's getting better."
But he said he measures economic improvement by asking, "How hard is it to find a job and how hard is it to start a business? It's still too hard."
In comments to reporters before the speech, Rubio repeated his insistence that he won't accept a request to be the running mate of the Republican presidential nominee.
"No," he said, when asked if he would accept. "My answer on that hasn't changed. I'm not going to be vice president. I'm not going to be asked to be vice president. I don't want to be vice president."
He reaffirmed that he intends to propose an alternative to the DREAM Act, but declined to say when, or what it might include.
"That's going to take a while to put those ideas together," he said.
His opposition to the act, widely supported by Hispanics, including some Florida supporters of Rubio and Mitt Romney, has been controversial. It would allow a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrant families if they attend college or join the military.
Rubio said one possibility is to provide the young people student visas instead of possible citizenship.
Rubio also denied that his endorsement of Romney in the Republican primary last week was unenthusiastic.
His endorsement, on Fox News Channel's "Hannity," followed that of his political mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He praised Romney as a successful governor and businessman and "a very clear alternative" to Obama.
But Rubio also said he was taking sides in part to help avoid a floor fight at the Tampa convention in August, and he undercut the endorsement the next day when he told an interviewer, "There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president, but they didn't."
Saturday, Rubio said, "Let there be no doubt, I'm excited about Mitt Romney as our nominee ... I have no doubt when it's all said and done that Republicans are going to rally behind their nominee."
But he repeated that "we can't run the risk of setting ourselves back" with a convention floor fight.
In his speech, Rubio appeared to be responding to the rise in President Barack Obama's poll standings in Florida and elsewhere, often attributed to economic improvement.
He blamed the continuing problems on "an administration in Washington whose policies are making it harder to start a business or find a job ... a president and an administration that use the tax code to pick winners and losers and play political games."
The crowd of more than 500 at a fundraising dinner for the Pinellas County Republican Party included some of Rubio's earliest supporters in his upset victory over former Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 GOP Senate primary.
They were ecstatic to see Rubio at a time when he's viewed as the top rising star in the Florida party and the top choice as running mate for likely presidential nominee Romney.
So eager were they to see him that when Rubio's flight to St. Petersburg from Miami was canceled, county Chairman Jay Beyrouti said, "We sent a plane to get him." He said use of the Beechcraft King Air was arranged by Tampa supporter Bill "Hoe" Brown, a business partner of the owner, whom they wouldn't identify.
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