Son of Reagan a celebrity draw as Gingrich woos voters in Central Floridaby Jane Musgrave | January 31st, 2012
LAKELAND – For the second time in three days, Buddy Fletcher’s real estate office was closed today.
Not by choice or by the housing collapse, but by a crush of people who arrived at the strip shopping center anxious to see GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich as he sought last-minute votes on election day.
“We’re glad to have them,” the proprietor said, looking over the sea of people crammed around the former House speaker, desperate to get an autograph, a handshake, a kind word – anything. On Saturday, the crowd had to settle for Gingrich surrogate former Florida Attorney General Bill McCullom.
Today, they not only got Gingrich, but Michael Reagan, the son of one of the GOP’s beloved presidents, the late Ronald Reagan.
“Oooh, I have to get a picture of him,” one woman squealed when told the balding guy in the pinstripe suit was the former’s president’s son.
“I just think it’s interesting to see the symbolism of it all,” said Tina Whitehead, who snapped her 4-year-old daughter Bailey’s picture with the Gipper’s son.
That’s what Gingrich is hoping as he tours Central Florida in his campaign bus, emblazoned with his picture on it. He invited Reagan, 66, a former conservative radio talk show host, to join him on the campaign bus on this critical day to counter attacks by his chief rival Mitt Romney that he wasn’t an intimate part of the Reagan revolution.
Not everyone in the crowd gathered outside Gingrich’s Polk County campaign headquarters was a fan of the former House speaker. Retiree Steve Helmstetter said he was voting for the former Massachusetts governor. “For me, I think Mitt is a better candidate. I like Mitt’s experience. He came from the business community and he headed the Olympics.”
Helmstetter said it was “ironic” that the makeshift rally was being held across the highway from a Staples store, a company Romney’s investment firm helped create.
While Romney is expected to take Florida when voting closes today, Helmstetter said he could live with Gingrich if he becomes the party’s eventual nominee.
“Anything’s better than what we’ve got,” he said.