6,000 cheer Gingrich in Naplesby Jane Musgrave | January 24th, 2012
NAPLES – “He is a rock star,” an almost starry-eyed middle-aged Ans Nedoba said shortly after GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich squeezed through the crowd after his fourth and final campaign speech of the day.
And few who cheered wildly and jostled to get a picture of him would disagree.
A record-setting 6,000 people crammed into Cambier Park in historic Old Naples after sunset today to cheer and applaud the 68-year-old whose candidacy was once dismissed by party regulars. The stop capped a day in which 4,000 turned out in Sarasota and 500 greeted him at stops in both St. Petersburg and Fort Myers as his campaign bus traveled down the Republican-rich west coast.
Like many in the crowds that turned out throughout the day, part-time Naples resident Peter Mele, who votes in Florida, said he is a recent convert to the Gingrich team. When the former House Speaker laced into CNN newscaster John King for opening last week’s debate with a question about his former marriage, Mele decided Gingrich, not Mitt Romney, was the man for him.
“That’s the kind of man I want as president,” the Boston native said. “He tells it just like it is. If you don’t like it, too bad.”
Roma Guran, who turned out for Gingrich’s appearance at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said she had the same reaction to Gingrich’s performance at last week’s debate in South Carolina. “I liked the forcefulness of Newt’s responses as compared to the milquetoast demeanor of Mitt,” the former Romney supporter said. “Newt can fight back and Mitt can’t.”
Nedoba, who was visiting Naples from North Carolina, agreed. “Mitt doesn’t have any charisma,” she said.
While confident after his stunning victory over Romney on Saturday, even Gingrich campaign officials seemed surprise by the turnout. Campaign chief Jose Mallea said Monday they expected about 3,400 in Sarasota. Six hundred more showed up. He said Naples officials told him the crowd at Cambier Park, which is surrounded by tony shops and restaurants, set a record.