Like Ryan, Rubio acknowledged government’s role, including regulating food and environmental safety, but declared "big government has never worked."
Rubio called for preserving Medicare through reform and touched on improving access to education, including ways to give low-income students scholarships to attend private schools and touting his support of legislation to make it easier for families to understand the true cost of college debt.
While some Republicans say they are open to raising taxes on the wealthy, Rubio drew a firm line, and applause from the audience.
"It isn’t about a pledge," he said, alluding to Grover Norquist’s antitax manifesto. "It isn’t about protecting millionaires and billionaires. For me, it’s about the fact that the tax increases he (the president) wants would fail to make even a small dent in the debt but would hurt middle-class businesses and the people who work for them."
Ryan, the architect of a deep cutting budget blueprint that has become a rallying point for conservatives, seemed eager to cast himself in broader terms and portray a friendlier GOP.
"Both parties tend to divide Americans into ‘our voters’ and ‘their voters,’ " he said. "But Republicans must steer far clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American. I believe we can turn the engines of upward mobility back on, so that no one is left out from the promise of America. But it’s going to require a bold departure from the approach that government has taken for the last five decades.
He too spoke of empowerment with minimal government and focused on lifting people out of poverty, though he offered few solutions other than spending money more efficiently and looking to the private charities for guidance.
"Losing is part of politics and can often prepare the way for the greatest victories," said Ryan, seeming to signal his plans.
Tampa Bay Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.