I’m a Californian. That means for all of my adult life my vote has never counted in a national election. I don’t ever remember any candidate, much less a GOP candidate, visiting anywhere in my state for a rally or town hall. Democrats come to fund raise, but that’s about it. The Primary election isn’t until June 2nd in California, and during the November election it’s a foregone conclusion that California will turn a bright shade of blue – like the ocean! Then we moved to the Carolinas. Hold the phone, I get to vote on March 15th? In a swing state? Crazy. Wait, I border an early primary state? Even better. Truth be told, my candidate was Carly Fiorina. I think she had the strongest and clearest voice among all the GOP nominees, and I don’t know an elephant or donkey who didn’t relish the idea of a Fiorina/Clinton showdown. However, my dreams were dashed on February 10th when my girl dropped out. All the other candidates were hitting the campaign trail in South Carolina, so I was too – in search of my winning ticket.
Before I share my personal thoughts about each candidate, let me just say that each event was very different. We went to 2 town halls, one rally and one sermon. I didn’t go to a Trump rally because there weren’t any in the Fort Mill area just over the border, and even if there were, I was not up to waiting hours in line to witness it or even be turned away. Kasich had scheduled a town hall in Fort Mill at the very last minute at the same time Jeb! had scheduled his in Rock Hill. I had some questions for Kasich, but the more I pondered them, the more I was sure I wasn’t voting for him. Also, he’s not leaving the race until Ohio votes on March 15th, so there’s a chance I could still see him in NC.
Okay, you’ve waited long enough. I’ve listed my experiences in chronological order.
MARCO RUBIO, THE POLITICIAN. Noon, February 10th, Town Hall Meeting, Marriott Hotel Conference Room, Spartanburg, SC
I was most excited to see Marco, because my husband is a fan. I wanted to be wooed. I was wearing a long maxi skirt and jersey long-sleeved shirt, but the moment we got to the hotel I immediately felt underdressed. There were about 300-400 people, mostly college coeds and the geriatric crowd. The college students were the dressiest, complete with bow-ties and sports jackets. Then there was us, a family of 3 complete with stroller and semi-fussy baby. Yikes!
The event started over an hour late. Surprising, since we were the first stop on Rubio’s South Carolina tour. We were finally greeted by Congressman Trey Gowdy and Senator Tim Scott. I’m told they are both very popular. Rubio finally showed up in a suit and he brought his son onstage who was wearing a hoodie. This is the day after his disappointing finish in New Hampshire from his proverbial Christie spanking about talking like a robot. You would THINK at this point he would begin to change things up, take some questions from the audience. But no. He gave his speech – his speech he gives everywhere.
He didn’t say anything disagreeable. Everything he said was fine. Then it was over. He shook hands for a few minutes, and I was seriously 8 feet away from having him hold my baby, but then I looked behind me to see if Matt was there with his phone to take a picture, and he wasn’t. Oh well. The whole thing felt like I could have just stayed home and watched it on TV. Except for this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this on TV.
Held by young, 20-something girls, of course. If Rubio played it right, he could really position himself as the next Kennedy. Before that happens he needs a better marketing team. I left feeling like he was a fine candidate, but pretty underwhelmed overall. People shushed us when our baby cried. Who shushes at a political town hall? Also, outside the town hall the Rubio Robots showed up, and that was awesome.
TED CRUZ, THE PASTOR. 7:30PM, February 11th, Rally, Morningstar Ministries, Fort Mill, SC
Baby’s bed time is at 7:30, so Matt stayed home with the baby, and I went to the Cruz rally with my friends Lauren and Tim. The event was at Morningstar Ministries, which is a church that meets at Jim and Tammy Faye Baker’s old timeshare/Christian amusement park. The main sanctuary is the old lobby of the hotel, and looks it. The crowd was much more casual. Mostly families and veterans. If Rubio’s event was somewhat high society, this was the face of the middle class. The sanctuary was filled with over 2500 people, so many that some viewed the event from the 2nd and 3rd floor railings.
The rally started with a video that featured a ton of people who worked on the 2012 Ron Paul campaign in Iowa. It’s fair to say, pretty much everyone was puzzled. But as the video went on, it was oddly effective and powerful. This is the video here:
There were a few more videos like that, then Glenn Beck did a talk. I’m familiar with a lot of conservative personalities, but Glenn Beck is more of an acquaintance. I really wasn’t prepared for his talk about how the Bible AND the Constitution were both inspired by Gd, but one thing I think everyone can benefit from is not judging a candidate by his/her endorsements.
Finally Cruz took the stage, and that guy can hold court. He has a presence about him – very commanding. The thing that stood out most about Ted Cruz was that he wasn’t just running as a candidate for president, he was running as an ideologue. He was stressing to the audience how important the role of the president is in appointing Supreme Court Justices and how important it is to protect our Constitution. And he should know; he’s a Constitutional lawyer. He went through his entire record defending the State of Texas. It was as if he was exegeting a passage, except instead of the Bible his text was the Constitution and instead of being a pastor he is, in fact, a politician.
I really wanted to know if Cruz gave off the creepy vibe in person like he’s sometimes portrayed on TV. Though there were so many people there, Lauren and I ran right up to the front. The Cruz team was very well organized, making sure that everyone got a handshake or picture or autograph from their candidate. When it came my turn, I told him how important Israel was to me, and he started talking about how restoring relations with Israel was his #1 priority. His muscle was trying to shoo me and Lauren away, but he kept talking. Then we took this picture.
Okay, maybe not the most flattering, but I’m not that good at taking selfies. I didn’t feel the creepy vibe at all. In fact, in person he’s sort of handsome. Weird, I know. I left the rally really pumped for Cruz, and was relieved that not all these experiences would be Rubio repeats.
DR. BEN CARSON, THE PROFESSOR. 11:00AM, February 14th, Sunday Sermon, Morningstar Ministries, Fort Mill, SC
Yep, we were back at Morningstar. Right outside the sanctuary was Dr. Carson’s bus and in front of it a table with the usual stickers, shirts, sweatshirts, hats, books. All of it was free. All of it. So if anyone is saying that Carson’s still in the race just to sell books, they are wrong. We picked up a book and a scrubs campaign shirt, which I mailed directly to Roman – the ultimate Dr. Ben Carson superfan.
Dr. Carson has a Secret Service detail, because there were threats on his life early in the campaign. You see the guy in the picture below in the lower lefthand corner with the tie? He’s Secret Service. There was one way in and a different way out. They went through our purses and other things. We got there early, so we could get a good seat, but I surprised that the place hadn’t been filled up like it was for Cruz. Granted, this event was not on Carson’s calendar as it was a sermon and not an official campaign stop. We found out later that the Secret Service only let a certain amount of people in the building, and the rest had to watch on a screen in another room.
I did think it was a bit odd to have Dr. Carson doing a Sunday sermon since he is a 7th Day Adventist. Also, the music that was playing as part of the worship had a lot of theological problems, so I imagine that might have made him uncomfortable as well. But ever the professional, Carson had nothing but gracious things to say about the congregation. He talked about his life story, his reason for running, the policies he would implement, and he did so with such candor. On television Dr. Carson constantly looks like he’s falling asleep, but in this space he was truly engaging. I could have listened to him for hours! More than that, he was talking about policies that I thought were truly innovative. Too bad he doesn’t get to express them during debates, because I doubt many people are going to his website like he asks them to.
The line to meet Dr. Carson was a lot more civil, but I suspect that was because of all the Secret Service agents around us. One thing that was nice was there was a lady there whose entire job was to take pictures with other people’s cameras. Matt did go with me to this event, but he had to use the restroom right after the sermon, and missed out on the picture. At least I got to tell him about Roman to which Dr. Carson replied “Please give Roman my regards.” You can see in that the pic below as also photobombed by a Secret Service Agent.
JEB! BUSH, THE PATRIOT.
5:30PM, February 18th, Town Hall, The Magnolia Room, Rock Hill, SC
This was by far the nicest place we had been to. This town hall was held at a country club. Everyone was welcomed with a “Jeb!” sticker, and inside there were complimentary donut holes and coffee. It was all very comfortable. I would guess about 200 people attended. Of all the events, the attendees for this town hall definitely looked the WASPiest, but there were people there of all stripes. We brought the baby to this event too, but we had a game plan, which really just consisted of a bottle.
Lindsay Graham introduced Jeb!. Ugh, I can’t stand that guy. He drives me nuts, and his little speech was just awful. However, when Jeb! came up to speak he was just so human. He had handed out a 46 page outline of all his policies. He went through them as clearly as he could, and the crowd was filled with faithful supporters. BTW, I know I’m using the “!” somewhat ironically, but it’s actually been with Jeb! for a long time. I found this picture today.
While Jeb! was speaking, my social feeds began filling with articles about some leaked information that he was dropping out of the race after the South Carolina election. It was heartbreaking, watching such a solid mensch of a guy giving his campaign speech with such conviction, knowing it was all over.
The one thing that was completely different from Jeb! than all the other candidates is that he took questions from the audience! And not just a few, he took like 12 or so questions, and answered them thoroughly. We went up to get a family selfie, but as we were almost there the baby had a complete meltdown, so this was the best we could do.
The story didn’t end there. I was interviewed for the local news, so that was exciting. Also, I posted a pic to Twitter with the hope that Jeb! would retweet it… AND HE DID! So exciting!
Of course, to follow were a lot of nasty hate tweets, but I got some nice tweets as well.
In sum, I had the time of my life. And to be perfectly honest, I was really disappointed with how well Trump did in South Carolina. I am certain if people had made more of a commitment to meet everyone, the result would have been different. Then again, I didn’t exactly get to meet Trump. If all poll numbers were the same, and I was voting purely based on personal, in-person impressions, I’d vote for Bush. However, now that his candidacy is moot, I’d say Cruz was the most presidential of existing candidates. I really hope that Cruz and Rubio can work something out. I don’t believe Cruz is a liar, but I also don’t think anyone has exactly run a clean race.
Next week we’re hoping to see both Sanders and Clinton. In the meantime, I’m thinking about writing another post about the effectiveness of Cruz and Rubio’s digital marketing teams. (Spoiler: Cruz wins.)