- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The most hardcore Republican faithful in the most important swing state came together this weekend for the first time since Donald Trump became the party’s presumptive presidential nominee and the reaction went largely like this: Well, he’s not Hillary Clinton.

Trump carried Florida’s March winner-take-all GOP primary by an overwhelming amount to earn the state’s 99 delegates, one of the biggest prizes on the path to the nomination. In November, Florida’s 29 electoral votes will be even more important. It is the largest politically competitive state in the country, and his task now is to get the state Republican elite who opposed him in the primary to support him now.

The consensus at the Republican Party of Florida meeting is that they will, even if there’s some initial reluctance to back the man who ruthlessly mocked two of the state’s most popular Republicans during the primary: former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Carole Jean Jordan, who served as the state GOP chair under Bush and traveled the country to help his presidential campaign. “But wounds will heal.”

Unlike Bush, the person credited with building the powerful state party, GOP activists say they will vote for Trump.

Enthusiasm, though, clearly was lacking during the weekend long meeting.

Most of the state’s Republican activists backed Bush or Rubio, and it’s fresh in their minds how Trump treated them. Trump repeatedly called Bush “low energy” and mocked him for needing “mommy” to campaign for him. He said Bush, the son of one president and the brother of another, was an embarrassment to his family.

And Trump called Rubio “Little Marco” and often said he sweats like a dog, paying no attention to the fact that dogs really aren’t known for sweating.

“We’re very disappointed that our candidate didn’t make it. We had different ideas, we had different plans, we had different thoughts of what we wanted our candidate to be. It’s hard. It’s hard for everybody in that room,” Jordan said.

But if they need something to rally around, it’s defeating Clinton.

“There’s just all sorts of reasons why we don’t want to see Ms. Clinton in the White House,” she said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tried to whip up support for Trump during a Saturday morning breakfast. Most of her intended applause lines fell flat, met with a smattering of polite clapping and often with more than half the room leaving their hands on their laps.

“Florida is about to become, around the country, known as Trump country,” Bondi said and then paused for the crowd to react. For a few seconds there was silence, then a small amount of clapping.

Afterward, she acknowledged that there’s been a lukewarm response to Trump among the party’s top activists.

“Of course there is. This was a hard-fought primary,” Bondi said. “Feelings get hurt, and these are deep feelings.”

But she pointed to the number of people who have avoided politics who now are enthusiastically involved - making homemade signs, attending rallies in large numbers and giving Trump a record number of primary votes.

Not that everybody is getting over hurt feelings. State party Vice Chairman Joe Gruters of Sarasota aligned with Trump early and served as his Florida campaign co-chair. He said activists are approaching him and asking how they can help.

“Donald Trump won, and it’s time for everybody to get on board. I truly believe that this never Trump movement will be less than a half percent of all Republicans,” Gruters said, adding that the holdouts will be far outnumbered by the new voters Trump is attracting. “The people that he’s bringing into the party will be 10 times more.”


Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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