CLEARWATER — U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio made his latest inroad Saturday into what was once considered loyal Crist Country, appearing at the grand opening of his new Pinellas County campaign office Saturday morning.
Dropped off in a Nissan Versa, Rubio posed for pictures and shook hands through a throng of more than 120 supporters as the crowd chanted his name. Parents pushed their children up to him for a photo opportunity as volunteers called out, "I'm next."
"You'll be happy to know I've never been a community organizer," he told a supporter, drawing a roar of laughter outside the suite at the Myrtle Executive Office Complex at 1230 S Myrtle St. in Clearwater.
Among those waiting for a handshake were Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, Largo City Commissioner Curtis Holmes and restaurateur Frank Chivas.
The two-room office contains an American flag, newspaper clippings proclaiming Rubio the "tea party candidate," a flat-screen television tuned to CNN, and four computers, each flaunting a background of Rubio's National Review magazine cover from August.
It was unimaginable six months ago that a candidate from Miami would be able to make deep inroads in Gov. Charlie Crist's home county, Rubio acknowledged.
"I wouldn't have believed it," he said. "No one would."
Republican Party activists in Pinellas on Monday overwhelmingly declared that they prefer Marco Rubio. The 106-54 "straw poll" vote is officially meaningless, but was a symbolic blow for Crist.
Rubio called the office opening "one of the most humbling days" of his campaign.
President Barack Obama's policies will ensure today's children will inherit a more troubled nation than their parents did, Rubio said. "We need to elect people who will go to Washington, D.C., and stand up to this agenda," he said.
The Senate race will decide America's fate, he said, adding that the United States could either remain one of the most prosperous, free nations in history or become like every other country under Obama's guidance. "In the 21st century, will America's greatness and uniqueness continue?" he asked. "At the end of the day, that's what it's about."
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.