It was homecoming for Marco Rubio at the Miami-Dade Republican Party on Saturday night, and he relished the chance to kid around with the people who know him best.
“Marco! Marco!” the sold-out crowd cheered as he took the stage.
“My son was saying ‘Polo,’” Rubio joked.
The Florida senator and 2016 presidential candidate headlined the local GOP’s annual Lincoln Day fund-raiser. They booked him a year ago, long before he launched his candidacy. The choice proved prescient: The party sold more tickets than it had since 1989, Chairman Nelson Diaz said.
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With the loyalties of Miami Republicans split between Rubio and that other local candidate, no one on stage uttered the words “Jeb Bush.”
Bush, who kicked off his campaign Monday at Miami Dade College, was alluded to several times. But this night was Rubio’s.
“I am not running against any of my fellow Republicans,” Rubio insisted, addressing the news media. “I know they want us to fight. I know they want us to argue. It makes for better articles.”
He directly poked fun at a New York Times story that detailed Rubio’s finances — a story he then used as a campaign fund-raising pitch.
“We’ve even been able to make enough to buy a luxury speedboat,” Rubio said, “though I admit it’s cleverly disguised as a family fishing boat.” The crowd roared.
He declared himself “proud” to be from a state with four presidential candidates — also Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee — and “from a city with more presidential candidates per capita than any city in America.”
Seated in the ballroom at the DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport & Convention Center were longtime Rubio friends he praised by name, including “political godmother” Rebeca Sosa, a county commissioner, and David Rivera, a former congressman. Rubio’s wife, Jeanette, and their four children were also in attendance — a rare occurrence, he pointed out, considering how much time he’s spent on the road since declaring his candidacy in April.
He recounted his first campaign, for West Miami City Commission in 1998, as the time he “really met my community face to face.” He’d have 18 cups of Cuban coffee a day, he said, and get so jittery that “my hands were shaking.”
Rubio didn’t deviate much from his stump speech, portions of which are familiar to many Miami-Dade Republicans who have been listening to him for years. As a result, his remarks weren’t especially rabble-rousing. He received much applause for opposing the Affordable Care Act — “We will repeal and replace Obamacare before it repeals and replaces American jobs” — and got in a few indirect jabs at Bush, including over educational standards — “We still improved our schools without Common Core,” he said of his time in the statehouse.
And he concluded by tugging at the immigrant heartstrings of the heavily Cuban-American audience by mentioning his father, who worked as a bartender.
“The journey from behind that bar to behind this microphone — journey is the essence of the American Dream,” he said. “In America, that’s not just my story. That’s our story. In Miami, that is our story.”
The crowd ate it up.