Front and center.
That is how local delegate Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, described the presence of the Florida delegation on the Republican National Convention floor Wednesday evening.
Though 99 delegates had seats center stage inside Quicken Loans Arena, it was not only the view that placed the Sunshine State in the middle of the action.
A strong Florida presence was felt during a prime-time lineup of speakers that included Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and a video address from Sen. Marco Rubio, who opted to remain in Florida this week.
The addresses filled Wednesday’s prime-time slot — along with GOP heavyweights such as former presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Scott Walker — leading up to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s first speech as GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate.
Anticipation was high for the moment as many remained unsure of what to expect from Pence, whom many have seen as a reserved counterbalance to Trump’s more bombastic nature.
Local delegates understood the importance of Pence’s speech as well as his selection as running mate.
For Sarasota County state committeeman Chris Ziegler, the choice was exciting for grassroots activists who may still be turned off by Trump. However, while Pence’s address was an important moment for Trump’s campaign, the lead-up from key Floridians was an equally noteworthy example of the state’s value heading into the general election, he said.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the state of Florida to be showcased,” Ziegler said.
He added the inclusion of a speech from Scott, formerly rumored as a potential running mate for Trump due to his early endorsement of the candidate, helped make the night exciting as a Floridian.
Gruters agreed, commending Scott’s “jobs, jobs, jobs” focus and suggesting he is one of the country’s best governors when it comes to job creation.
Gruters also had high praise for Bondi, whom he referred to as being among the most widely respected attorneys general in the country.
Factoring in an appearance from Rubio, Gruters said “having so many Florida speakers shows you the impact of (the state).”
Scott opened the speaking lineup for the “great state of Florida” with a thank you for the universal support following the deadly Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June. He cited the tragedy as one of many examples of domestic terrorism across the country.
“This war is real, it is here in America, and the next president must destroy this evil,” he said, pausing for the resulting applause before continuing. “Donald Trump is the man for that job.”
Bondi later took the stage, pointing toward the Sunshine State delegates and proudly proclaiming, “Florida, I love you,” before declaring Nov. 8 will be “a day of reckoning for those who have abused their power.”
Despite the Florida presence, some felt the recorded appearance from Rubio, who has had a conflicted relationship with Trump after dropping out of the primary election earlier this year, was a poor example of GOP unity.
Ziegler called Rubio’s choice not to attend the convention and embrace Trump more fully a “big mistake.”
For Ziegler, every Republican — “whether it’s Marco Rubio or my neighbor down the street” — has a responsibility to embrace the party candidate.
Gruters said he was glad Rubio chose to be present in some capacity, saying his willingness to endorse Trump even through a recorded message is a better effort than some Republican senators made.
“People are very disappointed in elected officials for not supporting Trump,” Gruters said, citing South Carolina and Arizona as states where lack of support among congressional Republicans is an issue.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who endorsed Trump even after the nominee made comments regarding the senator’s former prisoner of war status, is not attending this year’s RNC. Neither is fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake or South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, both having opposed Trump’s nomination
Manatee County homebuilder Carlos Beruff, a vocal Trump supporter now running to unseat Rubio, was in attendance. Though delegates said they were unsure how his presence in Cleveland this week —and Rubio’s absence — would influence the coming congressional election, Gruters noted: “Carlos definitely gets a couple of bonus points” for attending.
Matthew Zyle is a third-year student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he studies English, film and journalism. He is director of design for The Observer, CWRU’s undergraduate student news publication. Follow Zyle on Twitter @mzyle1 to view his coverage of the #RNC for the Bradenton Herald.