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Ahead Of Third Debate, Duval Republicans Rally Behind Marco Rubio

Ryan Benk

Even though outsider candidates are leading in national polls, the Duval County Republican Party is keen on supporting a more established presidential hopeful.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is the favorite among the county GOP, according to straw poll results released just before the third televised debate Wednesday night.

Duval GOP Chair Lake Ray corralled members to their seats at The Players Grille in San Marco shortly before the third Republican presidential debate aired on CNBC.

It’s the same bar where they watched the last debate and took a straw poll to determine the local favorite.

“Everyone thought that Carly Fiorina won the last debate, and I think that was widely shared across the country,” Ray says. “But what we also did was we asked who the favorite candidate was, and the favorite candidate was Marco Rubio.”

Still, Ray says real estate mogul Donald Trump was a close second, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

But Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who’s in town for a firefighter memorial, says he’s supporting another Floridian for president, former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“I saw what he did for education reform: Our kids are now best in the country. I saw what he did for tax reform: Other states are now following. I saw what he did for litigation reform: Companies are moving here because lawsuits are down,” Atwater says. “So, I’ve seen what he’s done, and I believe he’s a good, solid man and a good, honest man and a good conservative.”

But if 17-year-old William Bishop has his way, the nominee won't be a political insider.

“Political-wise I’m not too savvy on the speech with the whole government thing, but I support Trump because of his attitude and his demeanor, and I like a lot of his ideas — as aggressive as they may be,” Bishop says.

With a bright-red “Make America Great Again” cap on his head, Bishop says he’ll be voting for Trump in the next Duval GOP straw poll. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.