PALM HARBOR — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was interrupted by hecklers Tuesday during a 20-minute speech to Florida delegates at Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort.
The heckling began midway through Rubio's remarks, when a bearded, middle-aged man with a tattoo on his neck stood up and shouted "Hey Rubio!" The man had been sitting there, with no security badge, quietly at one of the tables.
"We demand that the GOP stop whoring themselves out to the big money interests that are raping this planet in trying to squeeze every last dime out of the working class," the man shouted to Rubio.
Boos and hisses followed, and two men with wires in their ears escorted the man through the kitchen doors.
Rubio handled the interruption with humor, to the delight of the crowd.
"I guess he's not happy with the hotel assignment," Rubio said. "Apparently he stumbled into the wrong convention. Did he eat the food?"
A delegate then yelled, "Way to get the last word, Marco!"
But as Rubio continued, another heckler, this one a woman who again had been sitting quietly at one of the breakfast tables, stood up and yelled: "Hey Rubio! Corporations need to pay their fair share!"
Seemingly stunned, Rubio looked on. As the crowd again shouted down the heckler, she too was escorted out of the ballroom.
"Okay, where's the candid camera?" Rubio said.
As Rubio again started talking, a third heckler chimed in.
The crowd quickly began a chant that drowned out the heckler.
"Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco!"
Again, Rubio had a wisecrack at the ready.
"Please, please don't say Polo," Rubio said as the delegates looked wildly at each other and around at other tables.
By the fourth heckler, a swarm of delegates had surrounded the protester and reporters rushed out to follow those who had been escorted outside.
Five protesters, who said they represented a group called "Stand Up Florida," were sitting on a driveway curb, where several Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were writing down their names. The deputies said the protesters were getting trespassing warnings. They were escorted off the property and told that if they returned, they would be arrested.
Stand Up Florida is financed partly by unions and has dogged the campaign of U.S. Rep. Allen West of South Florida's 22nd District. The group's website asks volunteers to help the group with the "99 percent takeover of the RNC."
Toni Rosenberg, an 67-year-old unemployed Boca Raton resident, was one of those protesters escorted off the Innisbrook property.
"I didn't come to get arrested," Rosenberg said. "I shouted that corporations should pay their fair share because I wanted to draw attention to what's happening to the working class."
Another protester, Kelly Benjamin, who ran for Tampa City Council last year, was escorted off the property by a deputy who grabbed his right arm and led him away.
As delegates left the breakfast, they shouted at the protesters.
"Get a job!" they yelled.
"Then stop destroying jobs," yelled back another protester, Stephanie Auguiste, 26, of Fort Lauderdale.
Auguiste said she was protesting the Republican Party's "opposition to women's rights" and other policies. Dressed in boots, jeans and wearing a Mohawk, Auguiste said she didn't crash the breakfast. "They would have noticed me," she said. "But our plan was to get our message across. I think it worked."
Afterward, delegates tried mightily to downplay the protest and highlight Rubio's speech.
"Rubio handles everything with grace," said Dana Swanson, a state committeewoman from DeBary. "We're just amazed that the protesters found us. We're all the way out here in Innisbrook. It shows his popularity; they wouldn't protest him if he weren't so popular."
U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill, said the protest was a good sign for Florida delegates, many of whom have felt far from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "We're getting noticed," he said.