Broward County

Broward GOP event will go on despite snafus about presidential campaigns

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio AP

Can the Broward GOP get some presidential candidate love before the March 15 primary?

Doesn’t look promising.

Bob Sutton, chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee, has faced the task of handling dueling campaigns as they compete for top dog spot at the group’s annual fundraising dinner. Meanwhile, it doesn’t appear that any of the candidates themselves will show up.

Jeb Bush was initially scheduled as the keynote speaker for the Broward Republican Executive Committee’s Lincoln Day dinner but canceled after dropping out of the race.

Sutton said he has no confirmation from Marco Rubio or Donald Trump. Rubio’s schedule for Saturday is jam-packed, ending with a rally in Pensacola at 7 p.m. Trump’s last event is a rally in Kansas City at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, Rubio will campaign in The Villages while Trump will appear in Bloomington, Illinois and then hold a 6 p.m. rally at Sunset Cove Amphitheater in Boca Raton.

“I cannot confirm or deny their schedules,” Sutton said Friday afternoon. “They are kind of like playing games to see who is going to be there. I won’t say it's a nightmare for us, [but] it's interesting. If any presidential candidate shows up we will accommodate.”

Richard DeNapoli, former Broward GOP chair who is Trump’s Fort Lauderdale area director and on his statewide leadership team, said “as far as I am aware the answer is no, he is not going to be at Lincoln Day.” DeNapoli will introduce Trump at the Boca Raton rally.

Sutton said about a day after he announced Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — a Rubio backer — as the keynote, the Trump campaign asked him to name New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the keynote speaker. Sutton says he told the campaign that Christie could speak but not as the keynote.

“I said we’ve already announced who the keynote speaker is,” Sutton said. “I have a sitting senator that is confirmed as our keynote speaker. I wasn’t going to dump him.”

(The Trump campaign request was previously reported by Beth Reinhard, former politics reporter for the Miami Herald who now works at the Wall Street Journal.)

Former candidate Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump Friday, will also speak at the event.

Campaign spokespersons for Rubio and Trump didn’t respond to emails from the Miami Herald about the event in recent days. The other two remaining GOP candidates, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, are not expected to attend.

The Republican presidential candidates have not held any major public events in Broward, although Carson held a book signing in Fort Lauderdale and a cocktail party in yacht showroom in Pompano Beach in 2015.

Nearly all of the 360 guests at the Broward fundraising dinner have likely already voted or have made up their minds, but candidates often speak at Lincoln Day dinners for the free media exposure. Sutton said he’s had inquiries from reporters in the U.S., Paris and the U.K.

Other speakers include U.S. Senate candidates Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Todd Wilcox.

Left-leaning Broward County has 240,000 registered Republicans — the third largest in the state behind Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties. So far, about 45,000 Republicans have voted by absentee or at early voting sites in Broward.

“If we can get a 30 percent turnout it will make a big difference,” Sutton said.

The event will be held at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina.

“I really want this to be about the voter and not the candidates,” Sutton said. “The candidates want it to be about the candidates.”