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GOP's Sunshine Summit Energizes Florida Voters

Orlando was the center of the Republican political universe over the weekend, as every major presidential hopeful spoke at the GOP's Sunshine Summit to several thousand of the state's Republican voters.

One was Judy Falkenthal of Sarasota, who said she had been a little worried about one of her favorite candidates for president. But she said she was relieved after seeing former Gov. Jeb Bush take the stage.

"I thought he was fired up," she said, as she waited to go to a VIP reception for Bush. "He's got the fire now. He's ready to go."

Jeb Bush
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF News
Jeb Bush meets the audience after his speech

Fellow Sarasota resident Carol Caprio sported a button backing Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Right now, she said she's torn between the two Floridians, both of whom spoke at the event held Friday and Saturday.

"Marco's young and dynamic, very inspirational, and I think he can get the job done, too," she said. "I like Jeb as well. I mean, they're all good. To tell you the truth, it's a hard decision to make. We have our primary in March, so we have plenty of time to make up our minds, but I think any one of them would do a great job."

Caprio also heard national GOP front-runners, surgeon Ben Carson and Donald Trump. She said she isn't so sure about either of them - especially the Manhattan real estate tycoon who also owns a home and a resort in South Florida.

"Well, I like some of the things (Trump) says - he speaks his mind, that's for sure. He'd probably get the job done, I think that's what it is, he doesn't take any nonsense," she said. "That's probably why people are happy with him. But I still feel you need someone with a little more political experience."

Caprio said Trump and Carson might be a worthy addition to the Cabinet and serving someone else as president.

Carson, who also has a home in South Florida, impressed Danielle Anderson of Palm Coast, a Trump supporter checking out what many of the candidates had to say. 

"Ben Carson was pretty amazing," she sad after hearing his speech. "I have never heard him speak and what he said really hits home."

Ben Carson
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF News
Ben Carson presses the flesh after his speech

But Anderson says it was another candidate who wowed the crowd.

"I'd have to say Ted Cruz," she said. "He had a really, really great reception - just energized the crowd. And seeing Carson, it was about the same. So those two speakers just knocked it out of the park today."

When asked if she's still backing Trump after hearing the other candidates, Anderson said, "As of right now, I think Trump can handle it on a global scale."

And as of right now, the polls say her take reflects that of a majority of Florida's Republican voters.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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