LAKEWOOD RANCH -- More than 100 supporters gathered in Lakewood Ranch Saturday to hear activist Sandra Fluke endorse Keith Fitzgerald, the Democrat candidate for the 16th Congressional District.
The event, focused on women's health care with overarching themes of freedom and liberty, was held in the Polo Grill and Bar ballroom.
"I've taken a look at Keith's record and when he was in the Florida Legislature, he really stood up and led the debate for women's health care," said Fluke, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention and was a target of Rush Limbaugh earlier this year when she tried to stand up women's rights nationally. "He was a strong voice of woman's right to bodily autonomy. He was also a really strong voice for young woman."
Fluke touched on Fitzgerald's work to provide comprehensive sex education to young people and prevent women from having unnecessary ultrasounds. She also discussed Fitzgerald's Republican opponent Vern Buchanan's stance against fair pay and equality for sexual assault victims.
Fluke said she supports Fitzgerald because he "respects the citizens' voice in a democracy" and is a "wonk."
"When you are casting a ballot for a member of the Legislature, you want someone who is going to get into the details of legislation," she said.
Speakers also addressed Fitzgerald's support for Planned Parenthood and Buchanan's vote to eliminate federal funding for the program.
"We know that Keith Fitzgerald has supported women having control of their personal health care ... and opposes any attempt by state or federal government that would curtail our reproductive rights," said Barbara Zdravecky, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. "There is no question that women's health is on the line on Nov. 6."
Barbara Hicks, who attended the event from Sarasota, said women's health care could potentially be a decisive issue in the election.
"I think it's going to make a difference among women voters," she said.
Ana Maria Rosato, communications director for Fitzgerald's campaign, said she was thrilled with the turnout at the event.
"These people know that have a 100 percent champion in women's health in Congress with Mr. Fitzgerald. Mr. Buchanan is the opposite," Rosato said. "When it comes to loving and respecting women, Keith Fitzgerald is our guy."
Outside, demonstrators held signs with messages supporting Buchanan and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
"Vern is focused on creating jobs, improving the economy and protecting Medicare for his constituents," said Max Goodman, spokesman for Buchanan's campaign.
During Fitzgerald's address, the candidate explained that women's health care is about fundamental issues.
"What this is really about is freedom and liberty," he said. "Our government should be there to expand our horizons, to provide us the freedom of security so people do not fall (from the middle class) ... and to enable us to direct our own lives -- for all men and all women to be the narrators of their own fate. That's why these women's issues are human issues."
By supporting Planned Parenthood and knowledge of a younger generation, Fitzgerald said the middle class will become stronger.
"Liberty is about giving each of us the power to exercise our abilities to make the most of our lives," he said.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.