COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Marco Rubio said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death had "refocused" the presidential race Monday, bringing some "gravity" to the choice facing voters.
"I think the Scalia death in many ways refocused this campaign," the Florida senator told reporters aboard his campaign bus. "It's like, hold on a second, this is not just about having somebody interesting there, about making a point or sending a message. This election is about electing someone who's going to replace Scalia with someone, and I think it kind of brought a little bit of seriousness and gravity to the decision before us."
He added: "I actually think that'll have an impact on voters — we'll see when, but maybe as early as Saturday."
The issue of Supreme Court appointments has taken center stage in the GOP presidential primary this week following Scalia's death over the weekend.
Most of the GOP contenders have argued President Obama should hold off on appointing a successor, and leave that decision up to the next president. Obama has indicated he has no plans to wait.
Rubio spent Monday at town halls across South Carolina, warning voters that the fate of the Supreme Court could be in their hands. He said nominating someone who would lose to Democrats Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders could result in more of the same activist justices that conservatives believe Obama has nominated to the court.
Rubio hasn't named any potential nominees he'd offer if elected president, but he said at an event in Lexington that it would be a "disservice to this country to replace Scalia with anything less than a strict originalist," someone who would interpret the Constitution as it was originally intended by the Framers.
That affirmation has been met with wild applause across the state and looks to be a central focus of his campaign as he barnstorms South Carolina in a final push for votes before the primary this Saturday.
It's a message Rubio seemed to suggest could help puncture some of frontrunner Donald Trump's support in the state, if voters begin to realize the real-world ramifications of the primary. But Rubio warned that the longer the race to be the Trump alternative remains so crowded — with five candidates aside from Trump remaining — the stronger Trump will be.
"I think once the race is no longer Donald Trump and five people fighting for the rest, but Donald Trump and two people fighting for the rest, or Donald Trump and one other person, I think that's where you see the race change. The longer it takes to get to that point, the better off he's going to be," Rubio said.