TAMPA — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio extolled the virtues of America and admonished the recent budget deal passed by Congress in front of thousands of supporters Friday at the Tampa Bay Tax Day Tea Party.
"The world cannot afford for America to be diminished," Rubio said. "A world without America's light will be a darker place."
Rubio said he didn't support the budget deal struck by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and that he'll take his fight to balance the federal budget to the upcoming debt-limit talks.
"We can't have more government than we can afford. We can't have a government that spends more money than it has. We can't have a government that every year runs up trillions of dollars in debt and sends a quarter of all the interest payments to China. We can't continue to do that and hope to remain exceptional and great," Rubio said.
The event, held outside Raymond James Stadium, was hosted by the Tampa tea party, the Tampa 9-12 Project and other regional tea party and 9-12 groups. Organizer Stacy Snow Feiler estimated the crowd at 5,000 and said the growth from last year to Friday was amazing.
Eighty volunteers helped gather dozens of vendors and groups that espouse the ideals of free markets, limited government and constitutional fidelity, Feiler said.
Several speakers started the event by addressing a host of issues, including demands to abolish the U.S. Education Department and secure the U.S. borders.
People in the crowd hoisted their share of signs: "Freedom, Not Socialism"; "What Part Of Broke Don't You Understand?"; "We Love The Constitution, Obama. Why Don't You?"; and "Attention Washington: You Have Run Out Of Our Money."
The crowd fell mostly into the right of the political spectrum, skewing slightly toward middle age but with pockets of youth.
"I came out because I want this country to pay for what we do, like everybody else has to," said Connie Rouse, 68, a Brandon retiree.
Keith Ford, 28, and his pregnant wife, Sarah, 27, drove from Clearwater after work because they are interested in the tea party message of smaller government and less regulation.
"I thank God that we got an African-American president and broke a social barrier so that any American can be president," Ford said. "But he stood on the gas pedal with this spending and he's not playing the part that the American people want him to play."
Ken Mayo of American Majority encouraged the crowd to get involved in local elections and stop in-party fighting before the 2012 Republican presidential primary.
"Whoever it is, is on our team," said Mayo.
Feiler said Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was originally scheduled to speak at the event but had to cancel. The group was thrilled to have Rubio as the keynote speaker.
"Anytime you can have a potential vice presidential candidate, that's great," Feiler said.
Republican mainstay social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage were left off the table by most speakers Friday, and economic and fiscal issues ruled the day.
"The tea party is Democrats, Republicans and independents united under a common cause," Feiler said.
Rubio said before his speech that partisan rhetoric is not the endgame.
"The fight is not even about spending, necessarily. It is about what kind of country we want to have moving forward," he said.