Politics: GOP straw poll

'Fred Heads' propel Thompson to victory

Pawleys Island -COASTAL OBSERVER- August 2, 2007

The landslide victory of Fred Thompson at the Georgetown County Republican Party’s first ever presidential straw poll was met with zealous cheers and applause Saturday by the swarm of “Fred Heads” who turned out to show their support.

Thompson won the poll with 102 votes. Second place went to Ron Paul, who had 40 votes, followed closely by Mitt Romney with 37.

The only presidential candidate to attend the event in person was Greenville businessman Dan Gilbert, who garnered one vote.

The event was attended by about 250 people, and 223 participated in the poll. It raised $3,000-$4,000 for the local party.

“For our first ever straw poll, I am pleased with the turnout,” said Tom Swatzel, the county GOP chairman. “It was an enthusiastic crowd that was the essence of grassroots politics at its best.”

According to registration logs, just over half of those who attended the event were county residents. Swatzel said the poll was intended to gauge opinions of not just county Republicans, but voters on a regional and state basis as well. He believes it did that effectively.

Thompson supporters made a bulk purchase of 100 tickets before the event. Swatzel congratulated the former senator and his committee for their efforts. “It’s clear his supporters are well organized and motivated,” Swatzel said.

Paul’s campaign planned to have 300 supporters from across the state attend, but only 50 or 60 turned out, and not all of those participated in the polling, Swatzel said.

Thompson was represented at the poll by U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, who gave an enthusiastic speech that received a standing ovation.

Paul, Romney, Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter also had representatives at the event. All of the presidential campaigns recognized on the state GOP’s Web site, plus Thompson, who has not announced his candidacy, were invited to participate.

“I was disappointed to see so many candidates didn’t have representatives. I think they missed an opportunity,” said Hagley resident Bill Boone, who attended the poll with his wife, Ann. “I’m disappointed that they didn’t think enough about the Republican Party in Georgetown County to come out, but those who did come did a great job,” he said.

The Boones said they attended to get more information about the candidates, but they weren’t swayed from their original choice.

“We came in backing Thompson and we’re leaving backing Thompson,” Ann said. The couple said they thought the attendance was good for a first-time event and would like to see it become a tradition. “There was also a pretty good age span and that’s important,” Bill said. “A lot of times with these things it’s all gray heads or no heads.”

Many of those who came said they came in search of more information about the candidates and their platforms. Among them were County Council Member Ron Charlton and former council member David Hood. Council member Glen O’Connell attended to represent the Romney campaign.

Linda Butler-Johnson, a past president of the state Federation for Republican Women, came from Charleston and said it was well worth the trip. She’s been to several other events this year to hear candidates speak, but said you can never have too much information. “I liked just about everything I heard today,” Butler-Johnson said.

Georgetown County School Board Member Elery Little and his wife, Eloyce, were also seeking more information and trying to show support for the county party. “I think some good points were made,” Elery said.

Surfside Beach resident Nancy Childs said the information she received at the event changed her mind about who she plans to vote for. She didn’t name any names, but said she’d come in supporting one candidate, and was persuaded by what she heard about another. “I just wish more of the candidates would have shown up, or at least sent representatives,” she said, “but it was still worth the trip down.” This was Childs’ first straw poll.

The event was also a first for Florence nurse Susanne Owens, who visited her family while in town. “I came in not knowing exactly who was running and what for,” she said. “I wanted to get some ideas about the candidates and what they stand for.” She found what she was looking for, she said, and though the information she received didn’t help her choose a candidate to back, it did help her eliminate several and narrow her selection to three.

One thing several attendees commented on was the sense of fellowship the event at Waccamaw High School created.

Ticket holders were treated to a barbecue lunch before they packed the auditorium for speeches and the polling.

As Swatzel welcomed those who piled in to vote, he called the straw poll a chance for likely voters to compare candidates and what they stand for to the county and state GOP platforms to see how they measure up to Republican ideals.

“One of these candidates must be the next president of the United States, because the alternatives are not good,” Swatzel said. “The alternatives are Hillary, Obama and the other Democrats, and you can rest assured they will increase your taxes and weaken the war in Iraq, and we cannot let that happen.”