Trump's man in Florida a believer from start of long-shot bid
SARASOTA — Joe Gruters forged a relationship with Donald Trump in 2012 after party leaders snubbed the New York real estate magnate at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Then the Sarasota Republican chairman, Gruters knew something GOP elites did not — Trump's celebrity resonated with rank-and-file party members. He cold called Trump's businesses to invite him to speak in Sarasota the night before the convention he was denied a speaking slot.
"This Joe's some piece of work," Trump said when he took the stage that night.
Now that "piece of work" is Trump's campaign co-chair in Florida. It was Gruters who convinced Trump to put his Florida primary headquarters in Sarasota. Gruters established early on a network of Trump-loyalists in all 67 counties, acted as a press surrogate and was responsible for the list of delegates that would go to the Republican National Convention.
Often the opening act at Trump's Florida rallies, Gruters has come a long way from a childhood where a speech impediment made it hard for him to say his name. Having overcome the impediment, Gruters now finds himself leading crowds in "Trump-Pence" chants.
If Trump wins the White House, Gruters would be in an enviable spot — an early Trump supporter with access to the upper levels Trump's circle. It seemed improbable in early 2015, when most high ranking Florida Republicans lined up behind Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.
"Joe's taken some risks, but those risks are paying off," Florida Republican Party chairman Blaise Ingoglia said.