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Politics: GOP sees unity despite upset in primary

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

There was only one decision to make on the ballot Saturday when voters on the Waccamaw Neck turned out in surprisingly high numbers for the Republican presidential primary, but for many of them it was an extremely difficult one.

“I can honestly say it wasn’t until I actually pushed a button that I made my final decision,” said Neen Durkan of Heritage Plantation.

She cast her vote at Waccamaw High School a little after 3 p.m. Not far behind her was Bruce Campbell of Ricefields.

“It wasn’t easy and there’s probably still a little doubt,” he said. “But you pick the best you [can] and you go with it.”

Campbell said he always votes, “but I think it’s more important this year. It’s more important, particularly if you’re a Republican, to turn things around. Things aren’t going the way I think anybody wants them to go, so it’s time for a change.”

In a switch over previous years, voters were reluctant to talk about who they ultimately decided to back in the race, keeping things vague. But over and over again, they said the primary this year was of paramount importance as the party needs a nominee capable of winning against President Barack Obama in November.

Whoever that nominee ends up being, Jim Jerow, Georgetown County Republican Party chairman, said he has no doubt that conservatives will come together to help him win, no matter who they voted for on Saturday. He said he doesn’t see any kind of split in the party now, during the selection process, and definitely doesn’t expect one after a nominee is chosen.

“Everybody certainly has their opinions, but whoever the candidate is in November, everyone has to get behind them and get that candidate elected,” he said.

In order for a GOP victory, there’s no other option.

“From my point of view, voters have spoken. There was a terrific 49 percent increase in voter turnout over the 2008 primary, and turnout was very strong on the Waccamaw Neck. That tells me voters want a change in DC. They want a Republican in office.”

Statewide, voter turnout was 21.5 percent and Mitt Romney, who was heralded as the clear frontrunner, lost by 12 points to former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who claimed 40.5 percent of the vote.

In Georgetown County, Gingrich took nearly 46 percent of the vote to Romney’s 37 percent. Rick Santorum was a distant third with 12 percent.

Voter turnout was 23.6 percent in the county with 9,664 ballots cast. In the 2008 GOP primary, turnout was about 17 percent, but steady rain and cold might have kept less dedicated voters away. The weather this year was warm and sunny for most of the day.

“I just felt I had to come out,” said James Mueller of Willbrook Plantation. “I felt I had to be heard. A lot of people go, ‘oh, it’s only the primary.’ Well, the primary is the precedent for the presidential election and if you don’t vote in the primary, then you don’t complain about who’s running in the presidential.”

Mueller said he ended up voting for his second choice after his first pick bowed out of the race.

Poll workers at all five Pawleys Island precincts reported turnout was steady all day – a surprise after some said they were told to expect to be “bored.”

By about 2 p.m. Pawleys 2 had already signed in 479 voters. In 2008 that precinct had 345. They and the poll workers were grateful for the precinct’s new location. It moved this year from the Waccamaw Library to All Saints Church. Though the crowd was nothing like what will be seen in June and then in November, folks said they could already see it was a vast improvement with ample parking and plenty of room for voters to line up inside out of the weather.

Celeste Spade of River Club was delighted with the new location, recalling the long wait outside the library with her husband in the 2008 general election. He had difficulty standing, but didn’t want to vote curbside. After that, he decided to vote absentee in the next presidential race, but recently passed away.

“The people were always very nice over at the library,” Spade said. But the line “was just ridiculous.”

“This is an aging community – not everyone, but a lot of us – and it does make a difference when it’s more comfortable,” she said.

She was in Charleston Saturday morning and almost didn’t come back to vote, but changed her mind after her son told her the voting location changed. “He said ‘you’re over at All Saints’ and I said ‘Hallelujah!’ ”

“Everybody has commented on it. They love it,” said Mary Doerr, a poll worker at the church.

The only Pawleys Island location that reported wait times of more than a few minutes this year was Pawleys 1 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. The line was out the door and some voters reported waiting more than an hour.

An additional voting machine was brought in at around 1:30 p.m. in hopes of speeding things up, but the problem was with checking registration on a laptop as voters came in. Each precinct only had one laptop to work with, said John Womack, a poll worker who was stationed at the church.

“The computer has been the choke point,” he said.

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