By Steve Holland
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., June 2 (Reuters) - Differences emerged on Tuesday among Republican rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination at a forum where it was clear that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will face some competition in Florida despite their home-state edge.
The fact that seven Republican candidates or potential candidates spoke at Florida Governor Rick Scott's "Economic Growth Summit" was proof of the wide-open nature of the search by Florida Republicans for a candidate in the November 2016 election.
With polls showing no clear front-runner in the race, the Republicans are starting to stake out positions in order to separate themselves from the tightly bunched pack.
Rubio, 44, opened the forum by declaring "the time has come for a new generation of leaders," a sign that he sees himself rather than the 62-year-old Bush and others in the crowded Republican field as the key to the party's future.
Bush touted his job-creating record as Florida governor from 1999-2007 as better than most, including former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who promoted his own jobs record.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who has struck a populist tone in his campaign, said it would be "political suicide" to reform Social Security in a way that would take away benefits from Americans.
This was a response to both Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who have both said Social Security must be reformed because of soaring entitlement costs.
Florida's Republican primary next March 15 will be a significant milestone, coming after the first contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and after 12 states stage events on March 1.
Bush and Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, have the inside track for Florida with political careers that are tied to the state.
But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that although the two have an advantage in Florida, he would compete heavily in the state. "We'll be back many more times," he said.
Bush, for his part, took no offense at Rubio's call for new leaders. "It's hard to imagine my good friend Marco would be critical of his good friend Jeb," he said.
But he made clear that differences will emerge in the "rambunctious" fight ahead.
Asked whether he had advice for his competitors for how to campaign in Florida, Bush chuckled.
"I'm not going to give them any advice. What are you talking about?" he said. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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