What makes a great leader?
Sen. Marco Rubio hoped to answer that question during his Sunday rally at The Villages, a retirement community in Sumter County.
About 700 people — including veterans, middle-aged parents and retirees — filled the Rohan Recreation Center to capacity by about 3 p.m.
Some bright-eyed attendees wore straw hats adorned with star-spangled sashes, while others donned U.S. Army, Navy or Air Force baseball caps.
The crowd overflowed outside the recreation center’s mahogany doors, where more spectators watched a broadcast of the event. Inside, veterans sat behind the stage and held “Veterans for Marco Rubio” signs.
As Rubio took the stage, his guests erupted into cheers.
The crowd continually applauded as Rubio outlined his plan for the economy, education, social security and national security. Rubio said his most important responsibility as president would be to keep the country safe, and that he would rebuild the military with a Reagan-style approach.
He also emphasized the need for stronger international relations, especially with Israel, which he called the Middle-East’s one pro-American, free-enterprise democracy.
“We need to be an ally again to our allies.” Rubio said.
David Kasse, a retired U.S. Navy officer, said he trusts Marco Rubio as a leader.
“I’m Jewish, so I’m very, very happy he’s so pro-Israel,” Kasse said. “I love that he’s so pro-military, and he wants to build our military back up. Those two things alone get me to vote for him.”
Rubio also denounced the current state of Veterans Affairs hospitals and the overall treatment of American veterans.
Alan Hooper, a Villages resident, said Rubio is the most articulate Republican candidate.
“He gives so much information in the short period of time that he speaks,” he said. “You can just tell that he’s excited for what he’s hoping to be able to do.”
As one of the first winner-take-all states of the race, a victory in the Florida primary would earn Rubio 99 delegates.
Despite an optimistic energy that seemed to dominate the rally, a small group of protestors congregated outside and held signs that read “Establishment Puppet” and “No-show Senator.” Their voices were outnumbered by supporters.
“Being president doesn’t mean that all your plans are going to come to fruition,” said Village resident Terry Hoalcraft. “You’re going to have to work with Congress. I think he has a lot of ability to bring people together.”
As he strives to lead the country, Rubio told Sunday’s crowd that he could represent all Americans as a tough, principled conservative.
“If we do what we need to do, we can leave this country better than it’s ever been,” he said. “We have problems. We can solve them all.”