Thursday, May 28, 2015 | 5:10 p.m.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio didn't come away with any birthday presents during a visit today to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in downtown Las Vegas, but he did get an endorsement in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination from store proprietor and "Pawn Star" Rick Harrison.
"I'm good at reading people, you've seen my show," Harrison said at the pawn shop featured on his hit History Channel reality television show. "This guy honestly cares about people and I think he understands the fact that the ease of doing business eliminates poverty ... that's why I'm supporting this guy to be the next president."
Rubio, who turned 44 today, took a brief tour of the shop with Harrison, examining the various memorabilia and talking with store employees.
He held a short press conference after the tour before taking off for a birthday party fundraiser at Harrison's house.
The stop is Rubio's first in Nevada since declaring his presidential run last month, although he did stop by the city for a book signing in February.
His trip will extend into Friday, when he's scheduled to meet with Las Vegas tech startups in the morning and with GOP activists in the afternoon.
The Florida senator is considered a front-runner in the hunt for the GOP nomination. Nevada's early spot on the nominating contest calendar has already made it a popular destination for candidates and likely candidates including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Ben Carson.
Rubio has deeper ties to Las Vegas than the rest of the Republican field after spending six years as a child growing up here.
"Las Vegas is a place where I have some roots, still a lot of family," Rubio said, promising to make many repeat visits during his campaign. "Nevada is going to be an important state for us."
Rubio said Las Vegas' efforts to diversify its economy beyond just gaming is indicative of a larger trend playing out across the country in an effort to remain globally competitive.
"We can't do that with leaders that are stuck in the past ... It's about whether or not we're globally competitive," Rubio said. "The debate about how we pay for higher education isn't just about it sending more people to college, it's about helping people get the right degrees."
On immigration reform, a key Nevada issue heading into 2016, Rubio said a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants "might be where we end up," but several things would need to happen first.
"We're not going to be able to do it in one major piece of legislation," he said. "The first step has to be to prove to people that illegal immigration is under control ... The second step will have to be modernize our legal immigration system so that it's more merit based."
Rubio also reiterated his support for reopening Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository because of the money and time already spent there. But he did say he'd be open if a "better alternative" were presented.
"If the science supports it, we'd be open to it," Rubio said. "But right now Yucca Mountain is the one place that money's been spent. It's not safe for this country to be storing nuclear waste in temporary facilities."