NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF "YOUR WORLD": Well, this is a very big issue for Republicans, including those who say that whatever the battles that Republicans are having, they are arguing that voters are more interested in solutions than soap operas. Now, the media won't tell you that, of course, but Florida Senator Marco Rubio, adding his considerable political heft to getting more Republicans to join him in the Senate, today barnstorming the Buckeye Street with Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who many have compared with the rising young Florida star in his challenge to incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown.
Both gentlemen joining me right now.
Gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R- FLA.: Thank you.
JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
CAVUTO: Senator Rubio, you could have your pick of a lot of candidates and causes to support. Right now, you put it to the Ohio treasurer, who trails by a lot in mockups with Sherrod Brown. That could change, but obviously you didn't take the sure political route, someone who was very close. You chose this one as your debut endorsement start.
RUBIO: Well, first of all, in my race, I started out 30 or 40 points behind. So actually if you compare him to me, he is actually in the lead I guess in terms of that.
But just in terms of this profile, first of all, he is accomplished. This is someone with a wealth of life experience even before getting to this stage in his career. He is younger than I am, yet he served I think two tours overseas on behalf of our country and our military. He's come back here to the state where he served in the legislature.
Now, of course, he is the treasurer of the state and he's very successful in that regard, and we need more people like that in the United States Senate. Clearly Ohio is a critically important state in our country. But moving forward, it is important we change who is in charge in the United States Senate. We need a majority, in my opinion, a majority of Republicans, so we can start to tackle some of these issues like saving Medicare and Social Security, like making sure that we, the United States, the most energy-rich country in the world, is fully utilizing all of our energy resources, not just to lower costs, but to grow our economy and to create jobs.
We will not do that with the current bunch that is in charge right now. We will need to make some changes and I think he is a great start in that regard.
CAVUTO: Treasurer, maybe owing to your entrance in this race, your critics have said that you have been sort of like an absentee treasurer, and that you have missed almost every board of deposit meeting, a board that you chair, and that you have been almost as soon you got in this post you have been running for this new post.
What do you say?
MANDEL: We believe we are running one of the most efficient and effective state treasurer offices in America.
While the United States was unfortunately downgraded for the first time American history last year, and 14 local government funds around the country were downgraded, we earned the highest rating we could earn, a AAA rating from Standard & Poor's on the $4 billion local government investment fund I managed.
Fitch then issued for us the highest rating they issue on our short- term general obligation bonds. Our liquidity portfolio is up $1.4 billion. And we have done all of that while cutting the budget in our office over $1 million, and the attitude and the approach we have taken in our office is that if families and small businesses throughout Ohio and America will tighten their belts, we will do the same thing in state government.
And frankly I believe we need more people like Marco Rubio in Washington who have that same approach to the federal government.
CAVUTO: All right. So, what you seem to be telling me is whether you miss meetings or not, Ohio is doing just fine; is that the gist of it?
MANDEL: We believe in the treasurer's office here we're setting the example for the entire country. We're setting the example of how a fiscal office should be run. In addition to that we put in place one of the most effective and professional staffs that any treasurer's office has in this country. We also are instituting a heightened sense of discipline. I am a Marine Corps veteran, did two tours in Iraq. And discipline and attention to detail is very important to me and we are instituting a higher level of both of those characteristics in our treasurer's office.
CAVUTO: The attention to detail might in fact be the case, but Senator Rubio -- and I will certainly raise this with the treasurer -- the rap against him is that maybe running for this office -- and this is something that happens along the way -- you try not to offer too many details.
For example, on the recent contraception debate, the treasurer said that American citizens have the right to purchase birth control if they choose, but he also said I think the Catholic Church has the right to follow its doctrines and its teachings.
What do you think of that position, Senator Rubio?
RUBIO: Well, that is exactly the argument most people are making I thought in Washington on our side of the aisle. This is not about contraception.
No one is talking about banning contraception. No one is talking about outlawing them. No one is even saying the Catholic Church cannot choose to pay for it if the Catholic Church wants to pay for it. This is not even about contraception. This is about the Constitution of the United States, which as one of its fundamental tenets protects religious expression and religious liberty.
The Catholic Church teaches its followers not to use contraception. Does that mean it has the right to prohibit its followers from using it? Of course not. But does that mean the federal government should have the power to force the Catholic Church to pay for something that the Catholic Church teaches against?
Well, if the federal government has the power to do that, then there is no religious liberty protection in the Constitution. And so that is what this issue is about at the end of the day. Today it just happens to be about contraception. Tomorrow, it could be something about else.
But the fundamental principles of religious liberty, which in many ways are at the core of the founding of this great republic, I think those are always relevant issues and they should always be protected.
CAVUTO: So, Senator Rubio, when you hear the response of the controversy generated by Rush Limbaugh's remarks on this very issue, justified that sponsors would want to bolt from him?
RUBIO: In America, you do not have to sponsor any radio program. Those people can make that decision. They could have made before he made those comments.
What I cannot overlook, however, at the end of the day, the issue, forget about radio hosts; forget about stuff that people are saying on the air for a second. This fundamental issue at the end of the day is not about any of that. It is about the Constitution's protections of religious liberties. That is what this issue is about.
Obviously the left and the Democrats want to create distractions because they do not want to admit that what they're to do is use the power of the federal government to force the church to pay for something that the church teaches against, and they do not want to admit that because when it's explained that way to people, people get pretty turned off by it.
CAVUTO: But you were critical I guess of the language Mr. Limbaugh used. Are you still critical?
RUBIO: Well, look what I said -- I will not have a comment every time someone says something on the air.
The bottom line is that he has apologized for it. People have dealt with it by pulling their ads. And the Obama administration and the others are doing what they are doing. Those are not words that I use, but at the end of the day, that is not what this issue is about. And obviously I think most people would say they wouldn't use that terminology. But that is not what the issue is about. The issue here is about religious liberties. And obviously that has been lost a little bit in the last couple of weeks, and we need to remember what has happened here and why it happened.
CAVUTO: Treasurer, you have probably seen this in Ohio firsthand the rising gas prices and now it's hitting the president's popularity, all the other issues notwithstanding.
Do you think that out of the blue that is the issue that could define this election, maybe even your election, not jobs, jobs, jobs, but it could come down to something as simple as gas, gas, gas?
MANDEL: Well, here in Ohio, the gas prices fall under the umbrella of jobs and the economy.
Since my opponent, Sherrod Brown, has taken office in the Senate, gas prices in Ohio and America have risen approximately 65 percent. This is one of the main areas of differential between Sherrod Brown and me. I believe in a responsible way that protects the air we breathe and the water we drink we should be exploring for national resources here in the United States of America, here in the Utica Shale and the Marcellus Shale right here in the state of Ohio.
Our opponent has sided with the federal government blocking the exploration of national natural resources here in the state of Ohio. Last week, he voted against the Keystone pipeline. And this will become a defining issue in this campaign.
And it one of those issues that are attracting a lot of Democrats to our campaign as well. Democrats, Republicans, and independents understand overwhelmingly that the natural resources we have underground in America are assets, not liabilities. And the responsible way to maximize the assets, we need to be exploring for all the oil and gas we can.
On top of that, Neil, I can tell you, as a Marine Corps veteran who did a couple of tours in Iraq; this is a national security issue. We shouldn't be sourcing energy from places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iran that calls for the destruction of our country and the destruction of our way of life, when we have natural resources right here in the heartland in Ohio, in Florida, and throughout the country.
CAVUTO: Treasurer, you mentioned your service -- and commendable at that -- to this country. Obviously you are aware of the fallout from this Marine who shot can killed 16 Afghans over the weekend.
And President Karzai of Afghanistan said this is unforgivable, and heightening the tensions between our two countries and some arguing that Karzai himself has fanned the flames. What do you think of that?
MANDEL: Neil, my second tour in Iraq was in a town called Haditha. You might recall earlier on in the Iraq war there was something that was classified by politicians and the media as the -- quote, unquote -- "Haditha massacre," where the media and some politicians in Washington, D.C., publicly prosecuted these Marines, wrongly, I should say, because now most of the Marines have been found not to do anything wrong. They were doing their jobs as United States Marines.
And so I think it is important, let's not pass quick judgment. Let's allow the United States military to conduct their investigation and make a decision. And if this Army staff sergeant did in fact do something egregiously wrong, then he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law.
MANDEL: But, frankly, I am sick and tired of the media and politicians in Washington publicly prosecuting our soldiers, sailors, and airmen and Marines. I believe the men and women carrying a weapon overseas, wearing the uniform of our country should receive the benefit of the doubt.
CAVUTO: Still, Senator Rubio, if I could wrap this up with you then, your thoughts on this. Do you think that President Karzai has made the situation worse by going so far as to call American reaction and behavior here unforgivable?
RUBIO: Well, look, again, and I think Josh makes a good point about waiting until all the facts come in, but certainly what we have read is media accounts is very disturbing.
And I have confidence in American military justice and the fact that the issues and the fact they are -- as they're being reported, they will be dealt with. Look, President Karzai has always been a difficult ally because the circumstances in Afghanistan have always been difficult.
That is difficult engagement to be involved in. And there are a lot of pitfalls along the way, not the least of which is, can the Afghan people ever create a functional government for themselves so the United States' engagement can be lessened?
We hope that that will be the case. And it will not be easy and it's a real challenge, but there are real strategic interests there for the United States and we cannot forget those either. And I think what we need to remember, now, is that there is a greater goal here in mind and we hope to accomplish that and ultimately have Afghanistan have its own security forces, a functional government, and one that succeeds after Karzai is out of office in a couple of years.
CAVUTO: Gentlemen, thank you both very, very much. We appreciate it.
RUBIO: Thank you.
MANDEL: Thank you.
CAVUTO: By the way, we did put out a call to Sherrod Brown, the incumbent senator. We are trying to arrange an interview.