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Florida GOP Beefs Up Ground Game For Presidential Contest

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz at the podium
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Congressman Matt Gaetz addresses the Lincoln Day Dinner

Hillsborough County Republicans held their annual Lincoln Day dinner over the weekend. They plowed past the impeachment hearings and predicted better days are ahead.

President Trump's re-election press secretary was supposed to be the star of the show, but organizers said Kayleigh McEnany gave birth just before the event. So in stepped Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach - who recently stormed a private impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill - and state GOP chairman Joe Gruters of Sarasota.

Even though almost all the speakers dismissed the impeachment hearings as an attempted "coup," Gruters says they're going to have plenty of boots on the ground to push for re-election.

"We have 45 staffers on the ground today. Democrats basically have zero," Gruters said. "We're going to hire another 40 by the end of the year. We're probably going to hire another 150 by the end of next year. We're going to build the largest grassroots army that this state has ever seen, and we're going to work with Hillsborough to make sure we deliver the 29 electoral votes that our president needs to win re-election next year."

They could have a tough time in Hillsborough. Tampa Bay's largest county is turning increasingly blue, and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Gaetz gave an impassioned half-hour speech at the Event Factory, a West Tampa festival hall.

"The impeachment of Donald Trump is the Democratic excuse for the lack of an agenda or an agenda that is downright terrified of the American people,” he said.

Other Republican politicians who spoke were state Sen. Tom Lee, state Rep. Jackie Toledo and Congressman Gus Bilirakis.

Tom Lee at the podium
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
State Sen. Tom Lee addresses the Lincoln Day Dinner

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