My World - January 2012

By Ilene Denton Photography by Alex Stafford January 1, 2012

Sarasota attracts more presidential candidates than anywhere else in Florida. Why?

We turn out more people. Fifteen hundred people turned out for the Michele Bachmann rally last summer. Most rallies in other parts of the state end up with 50 to 100.

What’s your secret weapon?

The candidates won’t tell us anything until seven days out. But because we’ve got such a great communication system, we can flip the switch and have a thousand people turn out. We have 10,700 Facebook fans, more than the rest of the Republican Party of Florida chapters combined.

How important is the music?

Very important—it sets the tone and excites the crowd. My favorite song to use is I Won’t Back Down by Johnny Cash.

Are refreshments necessary?

Yes! We get as much as 40 percent more turnout when we have punch and pie. Our goal is to expose the electorate to as many candidates as possible; they can look them in the eye, ask them questions, then make their decision. If it takes punch and pie to bring them out, so be it.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever gone wrong?

Four hundred people attended our barbecue in the Sailor Circus tent in the middle of the summer, and it was burning hot. People were fighting over the little fans; we were lucky not to have a full-scale mutiny. I learned no more events in un-air-conditioned places in the summer.

How do you handle hecklers?

The bigger the rally, the bigger the candidate, the more hecklers will be there. We’ll have action teams in place to go where the hecklers are, with signs and positive chants. My advice, regardless of your party affiliation: Have some civility, let people talk and let’s be known as a community that embraces people. If we don’t, both sides lose.

How do you get politicians to stop talking?

You stand as close to them as you can so they feel uncomfortable, and they’ll stop.


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