POLITICS

Marco Rubio booed off stage by Puerto Rican crowd at Orlando festival

Sen. Marco Rubio at the University of Central Florida, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.

Sen. Marco Rubio at the University of Central Florida, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.  (ap)

If Marco Rubio thought he would have an easier winning over voters in his home state of Florida than he did on the presidential campaign trail, he probably didn’t expect the reception he got over the weekend in Orlando.

While making an appearance at Calle Orange – a street festival in Orlando aimed at the city's burgeoning Puerto Rican population – Rubio was booed and jeered by the crowd when he was introduced on stage.

"Thank you for having me today," Rubio said quickly in Spanish. "I want you to enjoy this day. We're not going to talk about politics today. Thank God for this beautiful day, and for our freedom, our democracy, our vote and our country. God bless you all, thank you very much."

As the boos continued, the Florida senator quickly left the stage.

Rubio – who after dropping out of the presidential race began a reelection campaign for his Senate seat – did not comment on the unfriendly reaction from the crowd, but his campaign staff noted that he kept his Orlando appearance short because the stop was not a political rally.

"Marco kept his remarks short at the request of the hosts since it was not intended to be a political gathering,” NPR quoted an email from his campaign as saying. “Marco has worked hard on behalf of the Puerto Rican community — from leading efforts to help Puerto Rico out of its financial crisis, to awarding the Borinqueneers with the Congressional Gold Medal, and making student loans more affordable. If re-elected, he will continue to fight for the best interest of Florida's Hispanic community."

In a message to Fox News Latino, a spokesperson said that NPR didn't quote the statement in full. According to the spokesperson, the statement began, "This is an annual event that draws thousands of people, including many Democrats. While there were some boos in the crowd, overall the reception Marco received at Calle Orange was very positive. In fact, Rubio supporters standing near the stage did not hear any boos while he was speaking."

Any boos would be bad news for the Cuban-American lawmaker as he battles for a Senate seat against Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy. While Rubio is projected to win the race, his stature among his fellow Latinos has fallen, with a recent CBS News/YouGov poll showing him tied with Murphy among Florida Hispanics at 40 percent.

Much of the discontent from the crowd in Orlando seemed to stem from Rubio’s endorsement of the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Despite spending much of his time on the stump for president deriding Trump for his harsh stance on immigration and call to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, Rubio meekly endorsed Trump in a video statement during this summer’s Republican National Convention.

“Latinos might have differences among each other, but we're also united as one," Angel Marin, a retired Army sergeant of Puerto Rican descent, told NPR.

"And when we have someone like Trump, who hits our Mexican brothers, our Latino brothers, then you jump on that bandwagon after all that stuff he says not only about you personally ... as a Latino, you're a freaking sellout. I would not vote for him if they paid me."

Another reason for the cold reception Rubio received is that – unlike his hometown of Miami, with its more conservative Cuban-American population – Orlando and its growing Puerto Rican community trend heavily Democratic.

Numbering more than 1 million, Puerto Ricans now comprise at least 30 percent of Florida’s Latino registered voters and is expected to continue growing as more Puerto Ricans move to the state amid their home island’s worsening economic situation.

Rubio won the GOP's Puerto Rico primary in March, but it now appears that his endorsement of Trump – no matter how tepid – may have soured his favorability among Florida’s Boricuas.

"He's from the party of Trump," said Gretchen Valentin, a Puerto Rican who lives in Orlando. "I've never belonged to any political party, but this year I'm inclined toward the Democrats. The little I've seen of Trump and the Republicans and how hard they've made it for immigrants has left me unconvinced with them."

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