Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Marco Rubio and Rick Harrison attend the grand opening of Pawn Mall on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, in Las Vegas.
The grand opening of Pawn Mall on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, in Las Vegas.
It was a moment when Secret Service agents’ jaws dropped in advance of Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s visit to the new downtown Pawn Plaza. The agents — as is customary — wanted a patio area cleared out so that nobody was standing behind the Florida senator as he walked into the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday night with “Pawn Stars” hometown hero Rick Harrison and our Mayor Carolyn Goodman.
They instructed me to “hide” inside Smoke’s Poutinerie until the senator had passed by. I complied without objection, but the first place the senator wanted to see before he reached the ribbon was Smoke’s Poutinerie. He got inside before the Secret Service recognized me and asked what I was doing there. I had to explain that it was where the agents had asked me to hide!
He laughed, shrugged his shoulders, then remembered that I had recorded a voice track for Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News when political rivals blasted him for being “rich and famous” for owning a luxury speedboat. It turned out to be a 24-foot fishing boat with no lavish fittings and only a 245-cc engine.
Marco thanked me for setting the record straight, then we both remembered that we had a mutual good friend in California who is a huge supporter of his campaign in our neighboring state.
He asked if I was living in Las Vegas and how I was enjoying it. I told him that I couldn’t be happier, then he reminded me that he lived here when he was 8. He told me that his family lived here for six years when his father was a bartender at Sam’s Town and his mother a maid at Imperial Palace.
Marco marched in a union picket line with his father after helping make protest signs. It was a testing time for the young conservative who wrote about that lengthy strike in his autobiography, “American Son.” The down to Earth, regular guy describes it as being “a charmed childhood” in the book.
He wrote: “Las Vegas is not often the first place that comes to mind for people looking to raise their children in a wholesome environment. Yet, in many respects, it would prove to be the family-friendly community my parents hoped it would be.”
The next day, Marco was off to meet with Latino voters at St. Christopher Catholic School in North Las Vegas where he once attended. He also attended C.C. Ronnow Elementary School. When he lived here, it was in a modest, two-bedroom cinder-block home in College Park.
While at Pawn Plaza, the senator insisted on going inside many of the new stores where almost without exception he was cheered on by everybody working. He was offered free samples of food at all the fast-food outlets, as this was the VIP grand opening, and he shrugged his shoulders to me, saying, “The toughest part of being out on the campaign trail is watching how much we eat.”
He tasted the barbecue in Rick’s Rollin Smoke BBQ & Tavern and decried the lack of a similar good one back in his home state. One of the owners told him that he’d get great barbecue in the northern part of Florida, but still not as good as he had in Las Vegas at Pawn Plaza.
Rick is a big supporter of Fox host Sean Hannity. “I’ve met him many times, and he gets it. He impresses me. I’m looking for a conservative who has inspiring vision to solve our country’s problems and can articulate that vision and win.”
Rick added: “I think Marco can do that. I particularly agree with his education policies. He’s an incredible speaker. He doesn’t need a TelePrompTer for everything.”
Rick, who became fast friends with Marco at a political breakfast in Los Angeles, told me: “He’s a great guy. He’s a regular guy. Unassuming, but with a great heart that’s real.”
A number of people traveling in the senator’s group told me: “The senator is a great orator. He speaks from the heart. People are finally discovering that he is very sincere in his beliefs and that he really will fight for them and not just say the words.”
While here, the senator met with a gathering of prolific Republican donors, including Venetian and Palazzo owner Sheldon Adelson, who I’ve learned is expected to officially endorse him before the end of October and contribute millions to his campaign war chest.
Apparently, they are already talking several times a month about policy, international affairs and Israel. Retired ambassador Anthony H. Gioia, who is in the senator’s top ranks, said: “The more people hear Marco, the more strength he seems to be getting. I think it’s obvious that Marco is gaining strength.”
Marco moved comfortably through the enthusiastic workers at Pawn Plaza. He didn’t hesitate to one of the hundreds of requests for selfies. He even got his “Pawn Stars” buddy to pose for my photograph of them.
Rick said, “He has a boyish charisma that wins over fans immediately. You know that he’s genuine and sincere, and he’s experienced all the hardships and difficulties that Americans are facing today. I can attest that the smile is real.”
Marco grinned and whooped a cheer when Rick took a samurai sword from his World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop to slice the ribbon to pronounce the $4 million plaza officially open with Body Spa Salon; Inna Gadda di Pizza; Pawn Donut & Coffee Shop; Pawn Plaza Vow Renewals & Weddings; Rita’s Italian Ice; Vegas Flip Flops; and SoCal Speed.
Instead of lavish digs on the Strip in the Venetian or Wynn, Sen. Rubio took off for his overnight hotel stay at the Element extended-stay property in Summerlin under the eagle eyes of the Secret Service.
He didn’t get to see Rick debut his bartending skills in the BBQ Tavern for three hours later in the evening, but he’d be pleased to know that Rick led a good number of people in a toast for the senator’s victory.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.