Presidential nominee Donald Trump brought some surprise guests to his rally in Tampa Monday night – including legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden and the return of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi, one of Donald Trump's leading supporters in the Sunshine State, made her first presidential campaign event appearance since early September, when reports about Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi’s political committee made national headlines.
The Tampa native didn’t make reference to her absence – or return – to the nearly full Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheater. She instead focused on many of the night’s popular themes – including gun rights, immigration and the selection of Supreme Court judges unlike those appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
“We know what Donald Trump will do. We know he will put conservative jurists on the Supreme Court of the United States who will follow the rule of law,” she said.
With just two weeks to go before election day, and with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leading in many national presidential polls, Trump's whirlwind tour on Monday used big names to energize supporters. And Bondi's appearance was not quite the surprise as that of Bowden, the former Florida State University football coach who walked on stage to FSU’s iconic chant.
He energized the crowd full of supporters waving “Make America Great Again” and “Women for Trump” signs. Bowden used football analogies to emphasize the importance of voting, which started Monday in many parts of the state.
“November the 8th, that’s the kickoff. You got to be there. You’ve got to vote…Hey, all those signs that all ya’ll got,” he said. “They don’t mean nothing if you don’t vote.”
The 86-year-old Bowden said he was asked to speak on Trump’s behalf a few days ago. He flew to Tampa from Tallahassee after he said he and his wife, Ann, voted. An avid fan of early American history, Bowden said he feels Trump is best qualified to return to the White House qualities held by our nation’s founders.
“And one of the best qualities that men had in those days, and I hope we get it back and I hope Donald Trump will do it, they were men who depended on God,” Bowden said.
Estimates on the crowd attending Monday’s rally varied between 10,000 and the more than 20,000 that Trump claimed. Some of the supporters in the crowd included Floridians who said Trump has inspired them to get involved in politics for the first time.
Gil Nalley of Northport lined up outside the amphitheater hours before the gates opened to see Trump for the second time. He attended a rally in Sarasota earlier this year.
“I haven’t been active in politics, in fact this is my first year that I’m registered to vote and I’m 52-years-old. And Trump was the reason I registered to vote,” he said.
Nally said he still doesn’t have much faith in the electoral process but believes in Trump’s nontraditional approach to politics.
“What speaks to me is his plain talk and his willingness to address topics head on without worrying about political correctness,” he said.
Nally said he hasn’t volunteered for the campaign but may offer to serve as a poll watcher on election day.
Janet Key of St. Petersburg was so inspired she said she's spent three months volunteering for the Trump campaign. The small business owner said if her candidate wins, she’s going to hold Trump accountable for changing Washington.
“I've knocked on doors for you, I've waved signs for you...you better deliver or I'll be all over you like white on rice," she said.