As Trump gets crowned, Marco Rubio far from spotlight
Sen. Marco Rubio spoke to a throng of Republicans on Thursday night — but it wasn't the speech many political observers thought he'd give.
Rather than addressing thousands of GOP delegates at Cleveland's cavernous Quicken Loans Arena, he talked to about 400 people at a South Tampa brew pub. Instead of a prime-time television slot, he was relegated to a barroom plea for votes minutes before former rival Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president.
Republicans gathered at the convention watch party, hosted by the Hillsborough County Republican Party at 81Bay Brewing Co. on Gandy Boulevard. About 15 GOP candidates gave stump speeches, perhaps none more anticipated than Rubio's.
Stickers bearing Rubio's Senate re-election logo adorned many t-shirts. Fans, including Matt McKeithan, 27, of Tampa, braved crowds for a chance at a photo with the senator.
"It was like seeing an old friend," McKeithan said.
Rubio ducked out before the crowd caught Trump's address on the bar's wide-screen TVs. But in a spirited speech that lasted a few minutes, he called for party unity throughout the ballot, seemingly speaking to his ardent supporters in Florida.
"This election was never about me, and it was never about Donald, and it was never about the other 15 people on that stage," Rubio told them. "This election was about America."
One of those Rubio backers, Bill Bunting, a GOP state committeeman from Pasco County, said earlier Thursday the senator leaped too soon for a chance at the White House.
With so many Americans voting out of frustration with D.C. politicians this primary season, Bunting said, Rubio was in the wrong race at the wrong time.
"Personally, I think if he stays in the Senate ... and stays on foreign affairs and keeps going, I think he's a very knowledgeable man," Bunting said, "and I think people will be proud to have him."