MARCH 14, 2016 7:16 PM
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi endorses Donald Trump at Tampa rally

TAMPA -- Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi endorsed Donald Trump for president during Monday's rally in Tampa, conjuring memories of a controversy between the two over campaign contributions to Bondi and a lawsuit over Trump University in 2013.

Bondi and Trump weren't the only major appearances -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also appeared on stage. Hours before, Palin had canceled an appearance in the Villages because her husband was injured in a "bad snow machine accident" Sunday night.

"Thank you guys for your prayers for my husband who is recovering right now in ICU after a little wreck on a snow machine, so thank you," Palin said. "Big wreck."

Christie hinted that if Trump were to win the election, he would appoint Christie as attorney general.

"I was the United States attorney in New Jersey, we put all kinds of bad guys in jail, we put terrorists in jail, we put corrupt politicians in jail, we put corrupt businesspeople in jail.

We did what needed to be done," Christie said. "And let me tell you, I'm convinced that that's exactly the kind of attorney general Donald Trump is going to appoint when he's president of the United States."

Bondi said she was endorsing Trump because they "have been friends for years," and she believes he will move the country forward with strong leadership.

"Right now, more than ever, we live in a changing world. And we need leadership," Bondi said. "We need someone who is unafraid to lead and restore America to its greatness."

In 2013, Bondi apologized after one of Trump's foundations made a $25,000 contribution to a political committee associated with Bondi. The donation came three days after Bondi's office announced they were reviewing a lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman against Trump over Trump University.

Schneiderman said in the lawsuit that Trump University misrepresented itself and scammed students out of thousands of dollars individually and $40 million collectively. A New York appeals court ruled against dismissing the lawsuit on March 1.

Following her endorsement Monday, Trump called Bondi "the most popular person in Florida by far" before continuing on his typical remarks about building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, keeping businesses in America, taking care of veterans, discouraging foreign labor and disparaging his opponents. He focused largely on problems with the country and said he would make it better when he was president, but offered little in explanations of solutions besides better negotiating and being tougher.

The crowd maxed out the 2,000-person capacity in the ballroom of the Tampa Convention Center, and many people were turned away at the door. Despite the town hall format, Trump only took a few questions at the end and used the better part of an hour for a wide-ranging speech.

Several protesters interrupted Trump's speech, shouting expletives before being escorted out. Both a recorded message before the town hall and Trump himself reminded supporters not to touch the protesters, but to alert security to have them removed.

"Don't hurt her, don't hurt her," Trump said as the first protester was removed. Several violent incidents have been reported at Trump rallies between protesters and supporters, and a Chicago rally Friday night became highly violent after Trump announced he wouldn't be showing up.

Trump predicted the end of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, saying he wouldn't call him "Little Marco" anymore, then later referring to him as Little Marco anyway. He said Rubio's campaign was struggling and he should drop out if he lost Florida's winner-take-all primary on Tuesday to Trump. Trump has led by high digits in most recent Florida polls.

"He defrauded the people. You have to go vote in the Senate. He's never there," Trump said. "I don't know where he is, but he's never there. ... I don't know how he got elected."

The Trump supporters who showed up were all ages, overwhelmingly white and enthusiastically supportive of their candidate.

Many said they have already voted early for Trump.

"He can be very outrageous, but politicians on both sides have all said things that are untrue," said Anthony Staiano, 49, of Tampa. "I'm really behind him all the way, and unless something pretty drastic came out I would continue to support him."

Lorie Meier, 57, said the need for a wall was her main reason for supporting Trump.

"The way our country is right now, we need to take care of ourselves first," Meier said.

"We've been going slowly downhill."

Kalin Profitt, 21, said Trump genuinely wants to help America and isn't running to fulfill his own ambitions.

"A lot of people see him as this very extreme person, but I've never seen it that way," Profitt said. "I think sometimes he may say things that people take the wrong way -- there are a lot of supporters who may be ignorant on some subjects. But I think he is fairly reasonable in all that he says."

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby