STAMFORD — The annual Connecticut Republican fundraiser is named after Jeb Bush’s grandfather, but that didn’t stop the party chairman from inviting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to speak.

Rubio drew a large crowd of more than 850 and helped the party raise nearly $200,000.

Bush, who also is running for president, spoke at the event last year. The focus of Bush’s speech was immigration, a topic Rubio didn’t tackle Thursday.

A group of protesters, mostly students who were children of illegal immigrants, gathered outside the Crown Plaza in Stamford to express their opposition to Rubio.

christine stuart photo
Rubio protesters (christine stuart photo)

Lucas Codognolla, lead director of Connecticut Students for a Dream, said Rubio may be the child of Cuban immigrants, but in 2013 he pushed for comprehensive immigration reform and then voted against it. They said he also receives campaign funds from a private prison company that detains immigrants.

Rubio, who received several rounds of applause and a standing ovation, was introduced by state Sen. Art Linares, another Cuban American who interned for the Florida Senator.

Rubio’s 23-minute speech Thursday focused on the new American economy and what he would do as president to improve it.

“It’s clear the old way of doing things is no longer working,” Rubio, 44, said. “Our government leaders have not shown us what the new way of doing things should be.”

He said almost two-thirds of America makes less money than they did in 2002.

“The more you pay your workers, the less you will pay the IRS,” Rubio said.

The comment received a round of applause.

“We will help working families raising children to keep more of their hard earned money,” he said. “And we will lead the world in producing oil and natural gas so that their electric bills and gasoline bills go down.”

He said because of automation and new technology there are millions of Americans who are out of work or stuck in low-paying jobs. He said if he is elected president he will work to will spur the creation of better paying jobs and equip people with the skills they need to fill them. He said they will invest more in vocational education.

“To give people more opportunity to work in a trade, as a welder, as an electrician, as an auto technician, as a plumber,” Rubio said. “These are good-paying jobs and I do not understand why we have stigmatized them.”

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. was the first party chairman to endorse Rubio’s campaign for president.

“Senator Rubio is a dynamic leader with a record of accomplishment, and is an articulate advocate for free market, limited government policies,” Labriola said.

Rubio talked about his first run for the U.S. Senate back in 2009 when he was told by party elders he should wait his turn. He said he’s been told that again recently in his run for president.

Rubio said the only people who thought he could win that election all lived in his house. He said he chose to run because he knew the “future is now.” He said it’s the same reason he’s continuing to run for the Republican nomination for president.

“If we keep promoting the same leaders, we’re going to be leave behind our future,” Rubio said. “…I’ve been around long enough to know the old way of doing things isn’t working anymore.”

Rubio also got his digs in at Bush, his mentor, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He joked that he’s heard people say he’s not rich enough to run for president. Rubio spoke at length about his $100,000 in student loan debt and his parents—his father worked at a banquet hall and his mother was a maid.

“I didn’t make over $11 million last year giving speeches to special interest,” Rubio said. “I don’t have a family foundation that raised over $2 billion from Wall Street and special interests.”

A Fox News poll released Thursday showed Rubio’s support has dropped to 7 percent, with Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leading the pack with 12 percent.