(CBS News) COLUMBIA, S.C. - Florida Sen. Marco Rubio fired up an audience of South Carolina Republicans as he labeled President Obama the most "divisive" figure in modern American history, picking up an attack line used by his party's presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney.
"The president and his party's view of America's government and our lives is a failed one. It hasn't worked. His ideas that sounded so good in the classrooms of Harvard and Yale haven't really worked out well in the real world," Rubio said. "They get frustrated. They cant win on their record. And so they've chosen to go down a different road, one that I think is destructive, counterproductive, and very unfortunate."
If Rubio's speech to the nearly 1,000 party members gathered for their annual Silver Elephant dinner was meant to serve as a test of his ability to act as an attack dog for Mitt Romney, he did his job well. The oft-mentioned potential running mate for Romney delivered an extended critique of the president's policies and rhetoric that was interrupted several times by applause from the audience, who also gave him a standing ovation at the end.
They weren't the only ones voicing their approval for Rubio. South Carolina's top Republicans in attendance - Gov. Nikki Haley and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint - had their own praise for the young senator.
DeMint said, as he introduced Rubio, "We have a speaker here tonight that can be that voice for freedom." And Graham praised him as "the future of the Republican Party," and thanked him for his leadership. "Ronald Reagan would be proud of you," he said, the ultimate compliment among a GOP crowd.
They aren't alone. Rep. Tim Scott from South Carolina told reporters before Rubio's speech that the Florida senator is a popular pick among his colleagues on Capitol Hill to serve as Romney's number two.
Rubio returned much of the praise, even crediting DeMint with his 2010 Senate victory.
"If Jim DeMint had not endorsed me, I would not be a member of the U.S. Senate today," Rubio said as he reflected on how defeated he felt when Republican after Republican lined up to support his opponent, then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
For all his focus on the importance of the election at hand, Rubio's speech also had the hallmarks of a candidate gearing up for a possible presidential run in 2016. He presented his life story as representative of the American dream, noting that while he stood before a podium, his used to stand before a bar serving drinks on a Saturday night.
And South Carolina is not Rubio's first dance with voters of a key primary state. He delivered that same message about the ability to escape the circumstances of one's birth in America before a group of Iowa business leaders who had traveled to Washington, D.C. earlier this month.