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  1. Florida Politics

Bush campaign unveils Florida headquarters in Tampa

Jeb Bush Jr., center, speaks during a rally Thursday at Jeb Bush’s Florida campaign headquarters in Tampa. State Rep. Dana Young, left, and Attorney General Pam Bondi and former House Speaker Will Weatherford, at right, attended the grand opening.

TAMPA — Jeb Bush Jr. greeted a crowded room of supporters and staff Thursday at the unveiling of his father's Florida presidential campaign headquarters near Tampa International Airport.

Notable Jeb Bush supporters in attendance included Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Hillsborough County campaign chair Eric Brown and former state House Speaker Will Weatherford.

"(We're) doing this to win," Brown told the crowd. "No one is going to come into our back yard."

After Tampa hosted the 2012 Republican National Convention, this marks the second consecutive presidential election cycle in which the city is front and center in party strategy.

So, how does Tampa aid Jeb Bush in his bid to win his home state in March against other presidential hopefuls?

Christina Aiuto, who is Bush's Florida political director, said campaign officials realize the importance of Hillsborough County and Central Florida in winning the state. The region has historically been a bellwether in presidential races.

"We really wanted to have his office in a key part of the state," she added. "This is very, very key to winning the election (and) to winning Florida. We have a strong base of support here."

Supporters crammed inside the single-level headquarters building at 5460 Beaumont Center Blvd., just northwest of TIA, on Thursday and cheered, shouted and waived campaign posters.

"We're very excited to be opening this office (and) kickstarting our efforts," Aiuto said. "Every time we have an event, it's an overwhelming amount of support."

Deborah Tamargo, chair for Hillsborough County Republican Party, put it frankly.

"(If) you don't win Hillsborough County, you don't win Florida," she said. "You don't win Florida, you don't win the White House."

Hillsborough County, Tamargo said, has given the majority of its votes to the successful presidential candidate since 1924 — with the exception of the 1992 election.

"A lot of delegates are at stake, and this is Dad's back yard," Bush Jr. said. "His record here is what he touts around the country. It's important to have a base here and to have people engaged."

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has dominated recent polls and captivated pundits and voters alike. "The guy with the crazy hair," Bush Jr. joked.

If the two-time governor is going to pull ahead of Trump, Bush Jr. said, he's going to do so by focusing on "substantive issues."

Tamargo echoed those sentiments, adding that Trump is "not fading as quickly as people thought he would."

"I think we have a long way to go and a lot of real issues to talk about," she said. "And I think all of the candidates will get there."

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at (813) 226-3374 or mmajchrowicz@tampabay.com. Follow @mjmajchrowicz.

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