POLITICS

Marco Rubio's announcement drew a diverse crowd – young, old, rich and poor

Supporters wait outside the Freedom Tower to hear Marco Rubio's announcement about running for president in 2016.

Supporters wait outside the Freedom Tower to hear Marco Rubio's announcement about running for president in 2016.  (Francisco Alvarado)

In mid-afternoon in downtown Miami, hundreds of people of widely diverse ages, ethnicities and religions stood in a line outside the Freedom Tower that that stretched two blocks for a chance to hear the son of a Cuban immigrant bartender and cashier say that he was running to be president of the United States.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s struggles and hope and successes against towering odds mirrored the lives of many here; and for others whose lives perhaps have been very different from his, he emblemized the American Dream.

Four men in suits wearing yarmulkes bought "Rubio for President" t-shirts from a street vendor.
In front of them, three men with Venezuelan flag pins on their sport jacket lapels patiently waited for the line to move forward.

Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a persistent critic of what he sees as President Barack Obama’s docile handling of Venezuela, which has been rocked by unrest by protests over human rights violations.

One of the men waiting to hear Rubio, Ernesto Ackerman, president of the Miami-Dade Latin American Republican Club, praised the junior senator as a big supporter of Venezuelans against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

"His policies and his views is what America needs to go on the right direction," Ackerman said.

"He is the best candidate to tackle national security and foreign policy, which has been a disaster under the current administration."

Inside Freedom Tower, on the mezzanine level, supporters rubbed elbows with well-heeled Miami donors and politicians who have signed on to Rubio's camp.

On stage a huge sign bearing Rubio's name announced his slogan: "A New American Century."

As U2 songs reverberated around the meeting hall, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado called Rubio's announcement one of the most historic moments in city history.

Regalado's journalist father spent 22 years in a Cuban prison under the regime of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

"Freedom Tower symbolizes what the American dream means to the Cuban exile community," Regalado said. "His announcement will resonate throughout the nation and throughout the world."

Rubio, who often speaks about his ancestral homeland, chose the Miami landmark because of its personal importance to him -- it was the first stop for tens of thousands of fleeing Cuban exiles during the 1960s and 1970s. He said the kind of opportunities that were available to those exiles and other Cubans like his parents should continue to exist for all Americans.

"I know my candidacy might seem improbable to some watching from abroad," Rubio said at the Freedom Tower. "After all, in many countries, the highest office in the land is reserved for the rich and powerful."

"But I live in an exceptional country. ... where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power."

Others who gathered to hear Rubio’s announcement said they are tired of Bushes and Clintons and want a fresh face with fresh ideas.

Kelly Steele, 50, and her 18-year-old son wore tie-dyed Rubio T-shirts.

"We have had a lot of Bushes," Steele said, comparing Rubio to a youthful John Kennedy.

"Sen. Rubio kind of reminds me of JFK," she said. "He's got that energy and desire and momentum and excitement."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.

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