Washington (CNN) – Sens. Marco Rubio and Rob Portman, both considered top contenders to join Mitt Romney's presidential ticket, criticized President Barack Obama's economic vision - including his assertion that "the private sector is doing fine" - while introducing themselves to conservatives gathered here on Thursday.
"He needs to get out more," Portman quipped at the Faith and Freedom Conference.
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"What disturbed me even more was the context in which he made that statement. It wasn't just that the private sector is doing fine," given an 8.2% unemployment rate, he continued, "it was that he said the answer is what - more government."
Rubio did not quote Obama's comments as Portman did, but criticized those who believe "government that spends its money and so strategically, that that's what's created jobs and created opportunity. That's what one side of the political equation in America literally believes."
Meanwhile, Obama and Romney were preparing to take to separate podiums in Ohio for economic addresses - in the state which is both a key battleground and Portman's home. Obama backed away from his statement that the "private sector is doing fine" hours after making the remark on Friday, saying, "it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine."
Portman and Rubio spoke passionately about faith and family in their lives to an audience of conservative activists gathered to hear from top Republicans over the next three days. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is to address the group by video on Saturday.
Sen. Jim DeMint, who has embraced the tea party movement, spoke as well, calling Rubio among "the five top leaders in the Senate in terms of the conservative movement right now."
The others include Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, and Ron Johnson. Paul and Lee are scheduled to address the convention, as will former GOP presidential candidates including Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
Rubio focused on the opportunity which American freedoms - founded in the faith expressed in the Declaration of Independence - give individuals of all backgrounds.
He has proposed a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act which would grant legal status to young people who choose to attend college or serve in the military and who were brought here illegally, a measure Romney has said he will review.
Barbara Morseberger, a conference attendee who shares Rubio's Cuban heritage said Rubio's vision of an America with opportunity for all, "no matter whether you're educated or not," resonates with her.
Portman described choosing, on several occasions, between his public service career and personal life. After leaving a White House job to be with his cancer-stricken mother, Portman said he returned to government reinvigorated by the model of his parents.
"Like them, my faith sustains me," he said. "Like them, I pray every day.
"And sometimes I pray for guidance on Capitol Hill, that's needed, sometimes I'm not sure exactly what message I'm getting, but I try," he added to laughs.
Rubio was in the vice presidential sights of several attendees who spoke to CNN after the remarks.
He, DeMint, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin topped the list suggested by Beverly Owensby of Palladian View, South Carolina.
Lisa Roper, who traveled to the conference from Texas, floated the name of Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee.
Rubio ignored a question about vice presidential vetting when asked by a reporter after his speech.
Morseberger would pick him for Romney's ticket, but suggested the first term senator would do well to stay in the Senate, as he has said when asked the question previously.
"He's in a good spot now," she said.