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By Scott Powers, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The first big 2016 Republican presidential event in Florida saw seven potential candidates call for tax reform and less government Tuesday with only the state’s former Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pushing economic ideas outside the GOP mainstream.

Speaking before about 400 business people at a Walt Disney World conference center, Bush pushed for conservative economic principles but also declared that the U.S. needs immigration reform “for crying out loud.”

Christie also called for immigration reform and bluntly urged reforms of Social Security and Medicare, during a daylong “economic growth summit” sponsored by Gov. Rick Scott’s political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Other potential GOP presidential candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, stressed the conservative agenda of tax reform, a smaller federal government and the transfer of economic powers to states. They blasted President Barack Obama and Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton as preferring big government.

Florida’s other native son, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, didn’t attend because he was summoned to Washington on Monday night for the Senate session. He sent a video in which he portrayed himself as a 21st-century candidate set on reforming Washington with a focus on economic globalization and information industries.

But Rubio’s five-minute remarks offered few specifics, compared with the 20-plus minute speeches the other candidates all gave.

In his speech, Bush talked about “conservative principles done the right way” and raised concerns about alienating general election voters.

He referred heavily to his actions as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2006 as a blueprint for his conservative economics.

“If I run and I’m a candidate, and that decision is forthcoming really soon, my intention is to run on my own record … and to win,” said Bush, who, like several of the other GOP presidential contenders at Disney has not yet formally entered the campaign.

“I know the only way one wins in a two-person race is to get to 50 percent. And to get to 50 percent, you can’t tear down 40 percent or 45 percent,” he said.

Like those who spoke before him, Bush embraced the basic principles of limited, reformed government.

He also added, “A broken immigration system is a drain on our economy.”

Christie said most reforms cannot be undertaken on a national stage until entitlements are addressed. He also emphasized investment in science research and technology to build the next economy, but said those, too, must wait for entitlement reform.

He said Social Security and Medicare benefits should be means-tested, based on income. And he called for a gradual rise in the retirement age by two years by 2025.

“Seventy-one percent of this year’s federal budget is spent on entitlements,” Christie said. “If you don’t talk about what you’re going to do about the 71 percent, you have no right to talk about the 29 percent.”

Rubio said the information age and global economy are bringing about the most dramatic economic changes since the industrial revolution but Washington is not ready.

“Instead of benefiting from the opportunities that come with this transformation, our people are held back by the challenges,” Rubio said. “This is because while the economy is transforming, our policies and leaders are not.”

Walker and Perry emphasized transferring federal economic responsibilities, regulatory authority and money to the states, where governors, they said, are better equipped to deal with specific economic issues.

“I believe firmly that if we are going to reform our nation, we’ve got to take major portions of power in Washington and send it back to the states and local governments,” Walker said.

Perry said the president needs a governor’s experience of getting things done. And he said the first tasks must be regulation, civil liability and education reforms to spur the economy.

“Because if you don’t get that right first … you will not have the resources that come into your state to pay for the teachers, for the law enforcement, to pay for the infrastructure, to pay for the health care needs,” Perry said.

Huckabee spent much of his presentation advocating a “fair tax” initiative, replacing all federal taxes with a national sales tax. He said it would eliminate what he called the tax “punishments” of success, encourage new investment, make U.S. manufacturers competitive again and repatriate corporate money sent to overseas tax shelters.

(c)2015 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal waves to the crowd during Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Economic Growth Summit on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, at the Yacht & Beach Club Convention Center at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

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