Clinton Tampa HQ opens in Ybor to throngs of enthused supporters

To Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the city's significance in presidential elections is huuuge.

"You are standing in ground zero of American politics," he told a diverse crowd gathered around the steps of Ybor City's Cuban Club Wednesday. "This is where presidents get picked. Right here in Ybor City, right here in Tampa, right here in the I-4 corridor and once again we will be battling house by house, voter by voter and we'll win this election.

Buckhorn was there to herald the opening of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's Tampa campaign headquarters. Clinton faces primary opponent Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Senator wildly popular among the party's progressive wing.

The Tampa Mayor has long been a fan of the Clintons, and reminisced about former President Bill Clinton's first visit to Tampa, an appearance at an elementary school in the 1990s. The schoolchildren welcomed to lesser-known candidate with a banner that read "Welcome, Governor Bob Clinton," the mayor recalled.

The crowd that had gathered was full of local dignitaries, including most of the Tampa City Council, County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, County Clerk Pat Frank (whom Beckner is challenging in a Democratic primary for that seat) and others.

The new headquarters will serve as a base for staffers and hundreds of volunteers who will call voters, canvas neighborhoods and crunch voter data.

Thus far, recent polls suggest, Clinton leads Sanders, though Sanders supporters are quick to point out that he has gained on her significantly in recent months as his message continues to spread.

Buckhorn told the crowd Clinton's Florida efforts, if successful, will put an end to the divisive primary.

"March 15 in Florida is where we put the final nail in the coffin," he said. "Florida's a big state with a lot of delegates. We have all been down that road before. So if we want a candidate that's going to continue the progress of this great president that we have right now, we need Secretary Hillary Clinton."

Part of the fear among Democrats lies in the question of perceived electability. Some view Clinton as a middle-of-the-road candidate who would appeal to on-the-fence independent voters disgusted by Trump (though some Sanders supporters said they'd opt for Trump over Clinton).

"[The] thought of waking up Wednesday morning, on that Wednesday morning in November, to the headlines that say 'President Trump,' I can tell you this, 90 percent of this crowd would have been banned from America," Buckhorn said.

Alan Clendenin, a Democratic super delegate and State Democratic Party Committee member for Hillsborough County as well as vice-chair for the Florida Democratic Party, said he was there to show support for Clinton, whose name he said Florida's voters have historically favored.

"Florida has always been strong for President Clinton and Secretary Clinton," he said. "In 2008 she had a strong showing in Florida, and I have absolutely no doubt that on March 15, Hillary Clinton is going to be in a very good position coming out of this primary."

Regardless, he said, even though he's not supporting Sanders' primary bid, he said he appreciates the dialogue his candidacy has created and furthered. So, while major downsides to having a primary include high cost and potentially dividing the party, Clendenin said whichever primary candidate wins will have benefitted from competing in the months leading up to the nomination.

"I think what we have is a primary with two very strong candidates presenting two very different types of ideas about the future of the party and the future of the country. Every one of their arguments is going to make the victor a better general election candidate and a better president," he said. "The voice that Senator Sanders brings to this campaign is an important voice and I think that it's actually helping Secretary Clinton hone her message and hone her positions so that when she assumes the role as the most powerful person on the planet, that she will be a better president for all Americans and the world."