SHADY HILLS — His campaign likes to say the road to victory runs through Pasco, which explains why U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio headed down a dirt road Monday afternoon and climbed the steps of the spacious gazebo bearing a "Margaritaville Way" sign.
"I knew I'd find you at the bar," he joked to the more than 120 supporters gathered at Hallelujah Land Ranch near the Suncoast Parkway.
The Republican nominee found nothing but adoring crowds on his tour of Pasco County. A house party planned in Trinity earlier in the day had to be moved to a clubhouse because so many people showed up, said Pasco GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting.
"It's been like this all day," a beaming Bunting said as he watched supporters ask Rubio to pose for photographs.
Rubio's brief speeches were short on specifics, but carried a broad theme: The country is headed down the wrong path.
He cited health care, the economy, the budget deficit.
"If we don't solve these problems we're going to be the first to leave the next generation worse off," he told a crowd gathered at Bob Housekeeper's home in the senior community of Heritage Pines, near the Pasco-Hernando county line.
Asked whether he supported an Arizona-style immigration law for Florida, Rubio said such state measures shouldn't even be necessary. "I think this is the federal government's job," he said. "If we allow Arizona to serve as a model, we are letting the federal government off the hook."
As he left the home, Heritage Pines resident Carol Ricciardi glowed. "I never met a real politician in my life," she said. "His presentation. He just made me feel confident in him."
Ellouise Emke, the president of West Florida Women's Conservative Republican Network, chimed in: "What he is going to one day be," she said, "is our president."
Toward the end of the day, the road to victory apparently cut north, to the Hernando County community center of Timber Pines, another sprawling 55-and-over community in Spring Hill.
Wayne Dukes, fresh off a win in a Republican primary for a Hernando County Commission seat, helped warm up the crowd of more than 200.
"Before I die, I think he could be our president," Dukes said to applause.
Greeted by a standing ovation, Rubio traced the arc of his career: a son of Cuban immigrants, former state House speaker who was discouraged by GOP leaders from running for the seat and now would-be fighter of what he said was a misguided agenda reigning in Washington.
One of the biggest applause lines: "The American free enterprise system has eradicated more poverty than all the government programs combined."
CORRECTION: Rubio during his speech in Spring Hill did not use the term socialist to describe the current Washington agenda. A previous version of this story was incorrect on that point.