That doesn't mean trading principles for votes, he cautioned, and he was careful to defend Romney.
"We wish him all the best and hope his voice stays involved in the American political process," Rubio told the crowd.
Branstad was more blunt. He said the party was ready to "turn the page" on the Romney candidacy and praised Rubio as the "kind of inspirational leader that's going to help point us in the right direction."
In the less than two weeks since Romney's loss, Republican officials have been plotting a comeback for the party and many have urged a shift in the way leaders sell the GOP's message to voters — especially Hispanic and younger voters.
Among the one in 10 voters who were Hispanic, Obama carried 71 percent of them, according to exit polls. And among the 19 percent of voters under the age of 30, Obama carried 60 percent.
Rubio, a Cuban-American who has criticized his party at times on immigration policy, could help Republicans make inroads with the growing demographic group of Hispanics.
"People understand that we need to do something to address those issues and they want to do that in a reasonable and responsible way," Rubio told reporters.
The visit — so soon after Election Day — is among the first hints of a field of contenders for 2016. It was roughly this time four years ago that Romney started pushing his national profile ahead of a second presidential bid; his New York Times op-ed "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" was published on Nov. 18, 2008.
Of course, none of the potential candidates are anywhere close to deciding on a White House run, let alone announcing it. But early trips like this one start to introduce the politicians to the local activists and volunteers that fuel the early nominating states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Rubio joked he was surprised "people so far from Florida even care what I have to say."