SARASOTA — Donald Trump may not be getting his "big surprise" at the GOP convention today, but he caused plenty of trouble Sunday night anyway.
Accepting a "Statesman of the Year" award from the Sarasota County Republican Party, the real estate mogul reignited questions about President Barack Obama's birth certificate and weighed in on Mitt Romney's recent joke on the topic.
"What I think doesn't matter. (Romney) has his views and many other people disagree with him, as you know," Trump said at a news conference before the awards dinner at the Ritz-Carlton. It lured a record-breaking crowd that made Trump "bigger than (Tropical Storm) Isaac," organizers said in a press release.
Trump was referring to Romney's comments at a Michigan rally last week when he said in his home state, "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate."
Romney clarified later that day that the comments weren't meant as a "swipe" at Obama and were just "a little humor."
"He did make a joke, and some people thought it might not be a joke. It happens to be an issue that a lot of people believe in," Trump said, referring to the idea that Obama was born outside the United States. "Many, many people believe in it, so maybe I would have handled it differently, but (Romney's) running for president, and I'm with him 100 percent."
The reality TV star and Romney surrogate has made questioning Obama's birthplace a pet cause, prompting problems for the Romney campaign in the past.
On Sunday, Trump said it's an important issue that a "huge group of people" are concerned about, and the amount of time he spends touting it in the future remains to be seen.
"Let's just say this: There's a huge group of people that are not believers in what (Obama) did, what he said and where he came from," Trump said. "We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens over the coming weeks and months."
What was scheduled to be Trump's first night in the Tampa area might be his only one. He announced this month that he'd be part of a convention surprise today, but weather concerns caused convention organizers to cancel the first day of events.
"I believe that Mitt Romney will, No. 1, run a great campaign and, No. 2, will be a great president," he said, calling Obama's campaign "vicious."
Speaking to more than 1,000 people, he added that being a successful businessman is one of Romney's biggest strengths — and that Democrats will continue to use it to clobber him until November.
"I've always heard that if you're a great, successful person, you can't run (for office)," he said. "And I see how hard they go against Mitt and me."
Romney and Paul Ryan, Trump said, must be equally rough with the Obama team to win the election.
"I hope that they're tough as hell and mean as hell and fight fire with fire," he said.
Trump told reporters before the event that he was planning to return to New York on Sunday night, but that what happened to his RNC involvement was "totally up to" convention organizers.
"Well, I had a big role tomorrow night. You know what happened tomorrow night. So it's now up to them. … It's totally up to them, whatever they like," he said. "They gave me a big role and I was looking forward — I was actually going to Tampa right after this, right after this dinner, but now I probably will be going back to New York."
Asked to elaborate on what the "big surprise" was supposed to be, Trump just said it was a "very big thing."
Trump also commented on the scandal surrounding Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments, calling the comments "disastrous" but stopping short of saying Akin should drop out of the race.
"I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say resign, but some people are saying that," he said. "He made a mistake and he's apologized."