MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Marco Rubio breezed out of his second-place finish in the Nevada Republican caucus early Tuesday to speak to a friendly crowd of about 1,600 in Minneapolis, a week before Super Tuesday.
Rubio was interrupted repeatedly by the animated crowd at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
"This is a rowdy crowd, man. Holy smokes," the 44-year-old senator from Florida said. "Let's get back in control here, guys."
Rubio described himself as the son of "a working family whose parents lived paycheck to paycheck" who will represent "those people who are living that way right now."
"In their hands is the future of this country and in their hands is the desire to choose the American dream," Rubio said.
During the 35-minute rally, Rubio assailed the rapid increase in student loan debt in the past 10 years, calling it "economically, financially crippling."
Rubio said he had to pay off his own $100,000 debt in student loans, adding: "I've never met her but I sure paid Sallie Mae a lot of money."
Taking a break from the tone of the Republican campaign, which has been vicious, Rubio called Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders "a good guy" but said his views aren't a good fit for the United States.
"We don't want to be a socialist country. If you want to be a socialist country, move to a socialist country. We want to be America," Rubio said. Sanders refers to himself as a democratic socialist.
Rubio was harder on Hillary Clinton, saying the FBI is investigating her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, and said she should be "disqualified" from running for president.
Protesters from the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee gathered outside the Hyatt Regency, holding signs saying: "No More Deportations" and "Deferred Action For All."
"Back in December, Rubio said he would get rid of [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA] and I feel like it is a very drastic thing to the Latino and immigrant communities," MIRAC member Nestor Garcia said. "He's taking a step back instead of a step forward. I have a lot of friends who were able to go to college and get a college degree and find a job because of DACA."
Another MIRAC member, Adriana Cerrillo, said that "to be here is to remind him that he needs to speak about the issues and the resolutions."
"We are looking for real solutions. Immigration reform is absolutely necessary. It will be the solution to a lot of the immigration problems that we have in the nation," Cerrillo said.
In a Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll of 800 registered voters in Minnesota, Rubio came in first among Republicans at 23 percent, ahead of Ted Cruz, with 21 percent.
Rubio opened an office in suburban Maple Grove last week. Since then, U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty have endorsed him.
Matthew Dlouhy, 38, a Republican small business owner, said he came to the Tuesday rally to learn more about Rubio.
"I think he's more conservative than Cruz and Trump but I haven't said that I'm going to caucus for him yet. I haven't made that choice and I'm still thinking about it. But I think he's definitely where he should be in the top three runners," Dlouhy said.
A major issue for Dlouhy is tax reform.
"It's always a struggle for us," he says. "We pay seven figures in taxes every year and if we can take that money to hire more people and reinvest in the business rather than give it to the government, and they spend it in ways that not all of us approve of."
Patty Clifton, 53, said she is still undecided but leaning toward Rubio.
"I think Trump is a little of a hothead," she said. "He spews whatever comes out of his mouth, and I know he is not a politician and Rubio is, but Rubio is more presidential. He is going to think before he talks."
Kosol Sek, a member of the St. Paul-based International Khmer Assembly, was squarely behind Rubio.
"We're here because Sen. Rubio sponsored us in 2014 to recognize the Cambodian, Lao and Hmong people for fighting alongside Americans during the Vietnam War and also what is called the Secret War after 1970," Sek said.
Bounleuang Kataviravong, a member of the Free Laos Campaign, came to the rally with Sek and four other men dressed in military fatigues. Katavilravong said Rubio is a "true conservative" and that "we will show up for him."
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