Ahead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Tampa rally, fans filed into The Ritz Ybor to secure good spots in the venue for watching the former First Lady and presidential frontrunner.
The crowd, by some estimates 800 people in the main room and another 300 in the overflow room, milled about, intermittently chanting "Hillary! Hillary!" and "I'm with her!"
It was the candidate's first rally in the Tampa Bay area since she announced her run, and it comes just five days ahead of Florida's crucial presidential primary in which Clinton faces tougher-than-expected Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders, who upset her in the Michigan primary on Tuesday. (Sanders also had a rally scheduled later that night.)
Compared to the few presidential campaign events for other candidates that have been held to date this year, the crowd here was relatively diverse in age and ethnicity.
Matthew Murphy, 19, came all the way from Port Richey to show his support for a candidate he believes has long embraced things like LGBT equality.
“This is the first election I'm voting in,” he said. “I supported her from the start when I found out she was running.”
A couple of luminaries from the local Democratic establishment warmed up the crowd around noon.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) told the crowd it made sense for Clinton to campaign in Ybor City because of the area's storied background.
“The story of Ybor is the story of the American Dream,” she said.
She said her support for Clinton's candidacy stems from the candidate's embrace of diversity and policies that foster good jobs, affordable health care and good education. Castor called out GOP frontrunner Donald Trump on his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," which prompted the audience to chant "We are great! We are great!"
“If we're going to keep it great we've got to elect Hillary Clinton as president,” Castor said.
Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez similarly scoffed at the behavior of GOP candidates and called Sanders "a good man" who "made Hillary a better candidate."
In her 25-minute speech, Clinton focused largely on infrastructure and climate change, two key issues in Florida as rising sea levels and congested roads continue to impact everyday life. Investing in the Tampa Port, rebuilding roadways, constructing rail and mitigating climate change, she said, would create jobs, thus benefiting the economy overall.
“If people feel like they're getting ahead and staying ahead, that really lights a fire under our country. People feel like they can make it," she said. "And so, what I've done, not just in this campaign, but over the years, is to look for ways that we can create more jobs. And one of the reasons I've come to Tampa today to talk about creating jobs is that, that's exactly what you're doing. But you need a president, and, frankly, you need a governor [audience applauds] ... We have to do more to create manufacturing jobs and we have to do more to create small businesses and help them grow."
She criticized Governor Rick Scott for his 2011 rejection of billions in federal dollars for help building a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.
"That would've increased tourism, it would've increased commerce, it would've increased opportunities for people to go back and forth," she said. “It makes absolutely no sense. Especially when we know that we have to do high-speed rail if we're going to have a competitive economy."
As for the port, she said, it's vital to make it ready for a soon-to-be expanded Panama Canal.
"We have to do more to make sure that Tampa stays a center for goods coming in and out," she said. “If I'm your president, we're going to make investments in your port, we're going to go back and look at high-speed rail.”
She went after Scott on his policy (or lack thereof) on climate change, saying “it is the height of irresponsibility and neglect” for anyone in a position of power to ignore the threat of climate change in Florida.
She also hit on education, promising to eradicate student debt, contrasting Sanders' promise to cover college for all (which she says will "give free college to everybody, including Donald Trump's kids and grandkids") with a policy that would forgive student loans after a number of years.
Much of her speech was a recital of boilerplate Democratic positions on health care (she obviously supports the Affordable Care Act), protect Planned Parenthood from assaults from the right, preserve marriage equality, end anti-LGBT discrimination and reign in the NRA.
While she had plenty of barbs for Trump, Rubio and Scott, Clinton had little to say about Sanders, whom she is beating in the polls in Florida (though she also did in Michigan before losing to him at the polling places).
"It was an awesome experience not only hearing her speak, but the crowd here is incredible," said Georgene Bender, a retiree from Seffner, a longtime Clinton supporter, outside the venue. "It was really an uplifting experience to see the diversity that was here. Unbelievable. You look on TV and some of the other campaigns, and there is not this diversity. This is where the people are."
She echoed Henriquez's earlier comments about Sanders helping keep the conversation on social and economic justice.
"I thought she's really taken a look and I think Bernie has been really influential in formulating some additional policies or looking at them differently," she said.
As supporters filed out of the venue, two protesters held brown cardboard signs written upon with Sharpie. One simply read "LIAR" while the other one had her name as well as the words "bitch" and "sluty" [sic] written on it. The man carrying the latter sign was shouting unintelligibly.