It’s Florida or bust for Marco Rubio.
He hadn’t won a single primary or caucus, at least not yet, Super Tuesday. And so his Election Night speech focused instead of the big, looming primary in two weeks.
“Florida, I know you’re ready,” he told several thousand supporters gathered at Miami’s Tropical Park. “The pundits say we’re underdogs. I’ll accept that. We’ve all been underdogs. This is a community of underdogs. This is a state of underdogs. This is a country of underdogs. But we will win. And when we do — and when we do, we will do what needs to be done.”
The raucous crowd, perhaps unaware of all the results, cheered excitedly. Rubio stood next to his photogenic wife, Jeanette, and their four children. “Stop Insanity — Vote Rubio” read a large sign nearby.
Protesters interrupted Rubio twice before being escorted out. One group held a sign accusing Rubio, a Cuban American, of having “betrayed” his community.
“The world is growing more dangerous — and apparently, so is this rally,” Rubio quipped.
Rubio boasted about taking on undisputed Republican leader Donald Trump — an effort that risked being too little, too late.
“Just five days ago we began to unmask the true nature of the front-runner so far in this race,” Rubio said. “He loves to talk about polls — we have seen in state after state his numbers coming down and our numbers are going up,” though he didn’t specify exactly where.
“And two weeks from now, right here in Florida, we are going to send a message loud and clear,” Rubio vowed. “We are going to send a message that the party of Lincoln and Reagan, and the presidency of the United States, will never be held by a con artist.”
Rubio, who also spoke briefly in Spanish, chose perhaps the most Miami of locations to hold his Super Tuesday Election Night rally: Tropical Park. And not just any part of Tropical Park: the equestrian center named after Republican hero Ronald Reagan.
It wasn’t the only political symbolism. The rally was set up on the center’s red-earthed horse arena — literally home to (dog-and-) pony shows.
Two screens aired Fox News. Mentions of Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton — the night’s big winners — were met with boos. “Turn it off!” the crowd jeered at Clinton’s victory speech from downtown Miami. The audiovisual crew acquiesced, turning on The Black-Eyed Peas instead.
Food trucks — Frankie’s Pizza (“Featured on Deco Drive”) and Cold Stone Creamery — fed the crowd. A keyboardist played standards with a Miami flavor: Beyond the Sea and As Time Goes By, but also Cuando Salí de Cuba and Guantanamera. In perhaps the most Miami touch of all, Miss Teen Magic City and Miss Pre-Teen Magic City made an appearance, wearing shiny sashes, towering tiaras and matching platform heels.
The 73-degree weather cooperated beautifully with the outdoor location — if only attendees had thought ahead and brought along mosquito repellent. (Cue worried jokes about Zika.)
Even before results rolled in, Rubio’s team prepared for a poor showing. Spokesman Alex Burgos told reporters at Tropical Park that Rubio’s anti-Donald Trump message, which he’s hammered for less than a week, would sink Trump in the Sunshine State.
“In Florida, we know con artists,” Burgos said. “In Florida, you’ve either been a victim of a con artist, or you know someone who’s been a victim of a con artist.”
Rubio’s Senate office knows those victims well, he added — they’ve come for help over tax fraud, Medicare fraud, and even credit-card fraud from gas-station skimmers.
At a rally in Minnesota earlier Tuesday, Rubio tried a new moniker for Trump: “CON-ald.”