Florida Senator Marco Rubio struggled to fill an auditorium at the Moroco Shrine Club with supporters Saturday afternoon.
The room, which holds about 3,000 according to a sheriff’s deputy, was only about a third of the way full.
Rubio is swimming against the Donald Trump tide ahead of Florida’s March 15 primary election.
Rubio must close an enthusiasm gap—and a gap in the polls—if he is to win the contest in which the winner takes all of the state’s delegates.
The senator barely mentioned the Republican front runner in his approximately 25-minute speech .
When he did it was to draw a contrast between Trump’s bluster and his own forward-looking conservative message.
“People have a right to be angry, they have a right to be afraid and they have a right to be upset about the direction of our country,” Rubio said.
“But that has never been the foundation of our movement. The foundation of conservatism has been the hope that life can be better in this country if we follow the foundations that made us great to begin with.”
Rubio acknowledged his underdog status in his home state, but he also reminded Florida voters that when he ran for U.S. Senate he came from behind to beat former Governor Charlie Crist, who is now a democrat.
“I was arguing that the person running as a republican was not a republican. That the person masquerading as a conservative was not a conservative. It’s funny how history repeats itself,” said Rubio, who continues to question Trump’s conservative credentials.