South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley headlines Pinellas County Lincoln Day Dinner touting Marco Rubio
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, stumping for Marco Rubio Saturday night at the Pinellas County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, said before she endorsed the senator, she turned inward to determine what she wanted in a president.
“I wanted a country with a leader who knew the value of a dollar,” she said. “I wanted a leader who knows the private sector wins every time and the government needs to stay out of the way. I wanted a leader who knew the Constitution wins.”
“I also knew that I wanted someone with a passion who was going to fight like every day was his last,” the governor said to cheers from about 400 in attendance at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. “Ladies and gentleman, for me, that person was Marco Rubio.”
Haley knocked Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, by contrasting his behavior at his rallies to that of South Carolinians after two tragic events last year: the fatal shooting of Walter Scott in the back by a North Charleston police officer, and the massacre of nine African-Americans inside a Charleston church.
“I know what hate can do. I know what division can do. But i know what Americans can do. I saw in South Carolina. We didn’t have riots, we had vigils,” she said. “I’m watching a presidential candidate who is saying at his rallies, ‘Punch him, he should be taken out on a stretcher.’ That’s not Republican, that’s not American.”
She warned that if Rubio loses Florida, Trump will win the nomination. And, she said, “If Trump wins, Hillary wins.”
Before Haley spoke, several local Republican dignitaries gave brief remarks.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis, also a Rubio supporter, offered a slightly different tone about Trump.
“Whoever the nominee is -- I happen to support Marco Rubio -- we’re going to stand by them, and we’re going to beat the you know what out of Hillary Clinton!” he said. “Because we must save our country. We must save our country.”
Bilirakis also seemed to want to quash concern in the room about his leader, House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“You’re going to get to like him,” Bilirakis said. “He is uniting our Congress, and that’s difficult to do right now.”
Congressman and U.S. Senate Candidate David Jolly, who emceed the dinner, evoked the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young -- whose seat Jolly won after Young died mid-term in October 2013 -- to rail against the constant money-raising practices of representatives in the House.
“When Mr. Young was elected, we had legislators in the United States Congress. Now we have fundraisers in the United States Congress.”
The party awarded the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Service Award to Jay J. Beyrouti, who runs an investment firm in Pinellas County, and is on the board of directors of Enterprise Florida.
“A lot of people who knew Congressman Young, he touched all of our lives,” Beyrouti said when accepting the award.