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A West Miami homecoming for Marco Rubio

Republican Marco Rubio left the Univisión debate against independent Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek Friday to bask in the warm embrace of the Republican Party of Florida, which was opening an office in Rubio's hometown of West Miami.

"A lot of good things come out of this city, including our next senator, Marco Rubio!" said state Rep. Erik Fresen, who helped introduce a slew of Miami-Dade Republicans and GOP candidates for November -- including the ones who weren't there, like gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott and attorney general candidate Pam Bondi. (Sounded like Bondi's name was met with more robust cheers than Scott's.)

The politicians spoke interchangeably in English and Spanish, with one exception met with raucous laughter. "Buenas tardes," said Sen. George LeMieux, in town from Washington. "That's all I got."

More seriously, LeMieux warned, "The Democrats in Washington want to change our way of life. Our very way of life is in jeopardy."

But the lovefest was generally upbeat and festive (and, with a packed house, stifling hot).

"This was the birthplace of a person who has brought such great pride to our hearts," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said, the mayor of West Miami when Rubio was elected to the city commission. "I remember when Marco was first elected. I felt something inside -- that something has being born. I felt that in that moment a political star was being born."

On cue, "Gonna Fly Now," the theme from Rocky, played as intro music for Rubio. Mentions of President Barack Obama were met with the theme from Jaws.

There were loud cheers for local GOP heavyweights like Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and applause for state Rep. David Rivera, a congressional candidate and head of the Miami-Dade GOP who celebrated his 45th birthday Thursday.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but we've got state Rep. David Rivera here," Rubio, a longtime friend of Rivera's, said in Spanish once he got ahold of the mic. "Yesterday was his birthday. Yesterday he received an AARP card. Bus discount!" The older, almost entirely Hispanic crowd loved it.

Rubio asked volunteers to phone bank and to take local races seriously. "These people vote every day, multiple times" on issues that affect people's daily lives, he said. And he praised his hometown.

"I literally live walking distance from here," he said. "I am a neighbor of people who understand what the American dream is."