The campaign has dubbed it the "Where It All Began" fundraiser -- presidential candidate Marco Rubio returning home to reunite with some of his oldest supporters.
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Rebeca Sosa, former mayor of West Miami, called it a "historical day" in the town as she introduced Rubio on Saturday as the “the greatest son of the city of West Miami,” prompting the crowd to burst into a loud applause.
“This is where everything began," she said, then repeated herself in Spanish, "Aqui, donde estamos, fue donde todo comenzó."
Many in the enthusiastic crowd of about 500 helped Rubio launch his political career and said they have never doubted his potential.
Rubio’s first elected post was as commissioner for the city of West Miami. Sosa, who is often referred to as Rubio’s "political godmother," told the crowd about the first time she heard Rubio speak at his swearing in ceremony. “We were all left with our jaws hanging,” she said.
Sosa also talked about how she encouraged Rubio to run for the Florida House. Shortly after, she said, Rubio began debating whether he should run for speaker of the House. Sosa recalled many local politicians questioning whether it was too soon.
“Let me tell you. I have never seen a Speaker of the House like Marco Rubio in the years that I have been elected. And I have been elected 26 years,” she said.
Rubio finds himself in a similar position now. To this day, the Republican establishment believes that Rubio is too young and too ambitious, and that he should wait his turn. This is something Rubio often brings up on the campaign trail.
“I didn’t know there was a line!” he sometimes jokes.
On Saturday, Sosa said she knew Rubio was ready.
“Sometimes, you have very old people that don’t have the ability and the knowledge that he has, and the experience. And sometimes you have very young people who are very mature and know the business, “ she said.
Maria Silva, a longtime friend of the family who used to work with Rubio’s mother at a K-Mart in the area, was also at the rally. She said Rubio’s run for presidency was a long time coming.
She recalled Rubio saying "one day, I will be President of the United States of America."
This is the first time Rubio has held a public campaign event in Miami since he announced his run for the presidency.
The breakfast fundraiser was not a big-dollar donor event. The suggested donation was $20. Food included empanadas, croquetas and (of course) some Cuban coffee.
Rubio, who rarely speaks Spanish on the campaign trail, delivered most of his stump in Spanish. He was often interrupted by the mostly Cuban-American crowd shouting out words of encouragement and a few jokes in Spanish. Rubio played along.
“These are not hecklers, guys,” he explained to the English-language press. “They’re like positive hecklers.”
Within the first five minutes of his speech, Rubio brought up U.S.-Cuba relations and the recent election in Venezuela.
“We don’t talk enough about the dangers in our own hemisphere. You have an anti-American communist dictatorship 90 miles from our shores, and an administration that cuts one-sided deals that gives them everything they want with nothing in return,” he said.
“I’m very happy that he never forgets his roots,” Sosa said.
Rubio still lives in West Miami and tries to make it home every Sunday. His wife and children never made the move to Washington. He concluded the rally by confessing to his supporters that this might be the last they see of him for a little while.
“Unless you go to the grocery store on Sunday, you’re gonna be seeing less of me than you have in the past,” he said, explaining he would be spending “a lot more time” in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
"The early part of March, you're gonna start to see us again because I hope and I pray, God willing, that if we can continue to grow our campaign when we come here for the 15th of March. ... Perhaps on that night, in Florida, this party will be able to nominate someone for the presidency," he said, before being cut off once more.
“You!” the crowd shouted back at him.