Sarasota, Florida (CNN) – Saturday marked the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, typically a day when politics are put aside to honor the memory of those who died in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But the somber nature of the day didn't prevent nearly 4,000 Florida Republicans from gathering in a Sarasota arena to assail President Obama and root for Democratic failure in the midterm elections.
“This election is nothing less than a referendum on our identity,” Senate candidate Marco Rubio said, using a well-worn line from his stump speech. “Do we want to continue to be exceptional or are we prepared to be like everybody else?”
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Florida, roared against “amnesty” and called for English to be adopted as the country’s official language. “We are going to fire Pelosi and the rest of the them on Nov. 2,” he said.
Attorney General candidate Pam Bondi, who won her primary last month thanks in part to an endorsement from Sarah Palin, promised to move forward with a state lawsuit against President Obama’s health care law and “to fight for our state’s rights.”
Then there was Sarasota GOP chairman Joe Gruters, who brought the crowd to its feet when he shouted “Let’s fire Barack Obama in 2012!”
The overtly partisan rally, at which campaign stickers were handed out alongside barbecue sandwiches and $3 beers, was called “offensive” by the state’s firefighters union.
"On a day that should be spent remembering those we lost nine years ago today, including 343 FDNY members, and commemorating the brave service of our firefighters, police and first responders, it is disappointing that instead Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, and Pam Bondi are spending their day in a show of partisan attacks and name calling," said Gary Rainey, president of the Florida Professional Firefighters.
While each candidate took time to honor the dead, none shied away from outright attacks against the opposing party.
Asked about the criticism from the firefighters union before he took the stage, GOP gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott told CNN that the 9/11 anniversary “is a day to respect the individuals who lost their lives that day.” Pressed a second time about the political nature of the event, Scott repeated his answer.
Moments later, he took to the podium and railed against taxes, “government intrusion,” the Obamacare “disaster” and the stimulus bill.
“We are going to stop letting President Obama tell us how to live our lives, and we are going to take back the state for ourselves,” he said. “This country will be changed on Nov. 3.”
Janet Mixon, a small business owner who attended the rally, said the event struck the appropriate tone.
“9/11 brought the country together and reminded us of why we are so great,” said Mixon, also the president of a Manatee County Tea Party group. “We are fighting for those people who lost their lives, because we feel the country is being pulled in the wrong direction.”