Rubio pulls big crowd in Virginia
© Jonathan Swan

PURCELLVILLE, Va. — One of Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE’s four Sunday rallies in Virginia was a boisterous affair, with a crowd so large that hundreds of yards of cars were banked along the road and parked haphazardly on grassy strips off of a nearby shopping center parking lot.

The four events are a sign of how much stock the Florida senator and his strategists are putting in this state for Super Tuesday.

Rubio is expected to struggle in some of the deep-red Southern states on March 1, but Virginia is one place he and his allies are targeting for a win, hoping to break Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE’s expected dominance across the South. 

And the packed, noisy gymnasium at Patrick Henry College here on Sunday was a sign of the enthusiastic local support for Rubio in an area with a large proportion of wealthy and well-educated Republicans — a prime constituency for the candidate.

Hundreds of supporters crowded into the college gymnasium, and the rally was noticeably more lively than the smaller events the Florida senator was holding before he emerged as the dominant establishment Republican in the presidential race.

At one point during the lunchtime rally, two male protesters stood in the stands holding signs saying “Marco Rubio—Empty Suit,” but Rubio’s supporters wrestled the signs away and a man in the crowd tore one to shreds before throwing it down into the booing audience.

Rubio, who is now attacking Trump at every turn, used the protest as an opportunity to take a shot at the Republican front-runner.

“Marco Rubio, empty suit,” he said. “My suit wasn’t made in China. It’s not a Trump suit.”

As one of the protesters was hauled out of the way, Rubio added to cheers and laughter, “Ladies and gentlemen, the valedictorian of Trump University.”

The crowd jeered Trump every time Rubio mentioned his name. And at one point early in his speech, Rubio accidentally called Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE a racist instead of a Socialist, but quickly recovered to say he was still thinking of David Duke — a mocking reference to Trump’s controversial endorsement from the white supremacist. 

Rubio closed his speech by telling the crowd he needed their votes on Tuesday and, in a parting shot at Trump, said, “Friends don’t let friends vote for con artists.”