Young Marco Rubio Supporters Tell Us Why They're Backing a Republican

February 22nd 2016

Sarah Gray

LAS VEGAS — Much has been made of why left-leaning Millennials are drawn to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. But who do Millennials like among the Republican candidates for president?

In some ways, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to fill that niche: Diversity, his immigrant parents, family values, and the student loan crisis all factor into his stump speech. The senator is painting himself as the fresh face of the Republican Party, however, it's unclear if it is working. The Washington Post is reporting that exit polls in South Carolina show that he only received 22 percent of the vote in the 17-29-year-old age bracket; he was beat out by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 28 percent and Donald Trump who received 26 percent.

Marco Rubio Speaking at Texas Station

Fresh off his second place finish in the South Carolina primary, Rubio headed to Nevada where Republicans will be caucusing on Tuesday. Rubio appeared Sunday night at Texas Station, an off-the-strip hotel and casino, where he addressed a crowd gathered in the Dallas Ballroom.

The crowd — which, including the media, filled about two-thirds of the ballroom — contained a healthy smattering of Millennials. ATTN: spoke to several to see why they're voting for Rubio.

Shelby DeLong at Las Vegas Marco Rubio Event

Shelby DeLong, a 25-year-old licensed insurance agent, wearing a teal Ru(bae)o shirt, is a Rubio volunteer. This is her first time getting involved in the political process; in 2012 she was participating in a missionary trip with her church outside the country. Her passion for Rubio extends to calling people to remind them to caucus on Tuesday and she will also serve as a captain for one of the caucus locations.

"I think that as a Millennial, I think it is important for me that I have a good future for my children," DeLong said. DeLong, who identifies as a conservative due to her religious beliefs, is in favor of what she terms "traditional marriage." Family values, keeping the country safe, and preparing her children for the future are reasons why she's drawn to Rubio.

In terms of the other candidates, DeLong is "disappointed in the American people," over Trump's win in South Carolina. "To me Trump isn't even a Republican," she explains. "He isn't. He doesn't have the same strengths or values that we have, and I really think that that's important."

"The anger trumps logic," DeLong continued referring to Trump. "Because people are so angry about how things are right now that they're not really thinking about it. And I think with Rubio coming in second place it shows that some people are actually thinking about it. They're thinking about what we really need to do to fix our country."

DeLong believes Rubio offers a youthful appeal.

"I think it attracts young people because it helps them see that you can start from anywhere and get pretty much anywhere. I think Bernie Sanders' thing is like, 'You can be anything' and Marco's like, 'I have been working so hard fo this,' and now he's like, 'I'm just going to go for it, and I'm going to make it happen,' but he also has his hard work to back it up," DeLong said.

Marco Rubio at Nevada Event

Rubio and the supporters at Sunday's event are somewhat reflective: there were families gathered, and the crowd was a mixture of white and Latino supporters. Rubio hit a lot of the topics that DeLong and others consider most important: His immigrant family, parents working hard to make sure that the American dream is achievable for their children, family values, and his claim that he is an embodiment of the American dream. He explains that he once "lived paycheck to paycheck" and now he is running for president.

Rebekah Solorzano is 18 years old, a first time voter, and also in a Ru(bae)o T-shirt. Solorzano came to the event with her mom, who explains that she has been voting Republican since Ronald Reagan.

"I did my research on Rubio, and a lot of what I was reading I agreed with," Solorzano explained. "I really like what he stands for — for foreign policy, immigration, he has good traditional values and overall I feel like he's a very strong candidate."

Rebekah Solorzano and her mom at a Rubio Event

"I was questioning between him and Ted Cruz, but I don't know something about Rubio stood out to me," she explained. "He's a fresh face for America."

When asked about Trump, Solorzano has a diplomatic answer: "You love or you hate him."

"I think with Donald Trump, he gets a lot of hate. But he's something new, something we haven't seen in as many years as we've been a democracy, I think," Solorzano said.

In terms of other issues, Solorzano, like DeLong, is in favor of "traditional marriage," she also worries about ISIS. Solorzano is a high school student, who plans to attend college, yet she's not worried about college affordability.

"There's a lot of affordability issues," she said. "But I think there's ways that we can get money. There is FAFSA, there's scholarships. If you don't have the money, you've got to really work to get the money."

The issue of college affordability, however, has been an issue for many other students — and has contributed to Sanders' popularity, as he calls for free tuition.

For Rubio's part, the candidate boasted being the only Republican talking about making college more affordable, explaining to event-goers that it wasn't until he received the proceeds from his book, he was able to pay off his student loans. While he did mention his student loans, Rubio didn't delve into his specific solution to college affordability. (ATTN: has discussed it here.)

College affordability is an important issue for recent graduate Rosangela Altamirano and current California State University, Long Beach student Adrian Silva. The two drove all the way from Los Angeles just to hear Rubio speak. While they think that Clinton and Sanders' solutions sound "great," they like Rubio because he seems like a "reasonable," "logical" candidate, who can "realistically" accomplish his goals.

"The free college issue that they're trying to bring about on the left, it sounds great and everything, but I feel like it can't happen," Silva said. "It would be perfect in an ideal world, but unfortunately not one we live in."

"I think [college] is a necessary investment," Altamirano said. "But I think we need to see [education] as an investment."

When asked about Trump or Cruz, Altamirano has a negative response. Altamirano does not agree with Trump's immigration plan. Another reason she's supporting Rubio is because she believes that he can help with the polarization in Washington.

Another Rubio supporter, Donnie Wahlberg, is also drawn to what he sees as Rubio's reasonable platform and ability to unite the Republican Party.

Donnie Whalberg

Wahlberg announced his celebrity endorsement of Rubio over the weekend, and he spoke to the crowd on Sunday explaining that Rubio was the first Republican he would be voting for.

"Marco and I, we don't see eye to eye on every issue, being that I haven't always voted Republican," Whalberg told the crowd. "But I will say, I would much rather have a Republican telling me something that I don't want to hear, than have another Democrat tell me every single thing that I want to hear just to get my vote."