SARASOTA - Sarasota County Republicans gathered at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Friday, not for a concert, but for a political rally that served to raise money, and rouse the base. Even as the crowd applauds the performers, those on stage praise them.
“We call them grass-roots supporters and volunteers,” says Attorney General Pam Bondi. “But none of us would be in office if it wasn't for all these great people who are here tonight.”
Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam take turns in the spotlight on a rare night when they all appear at the same event. This one in front of about 1,600 people who paid $90 and more to attend.
“This is like hunting ducks over a baited field,” Putnam says. “You've got this many people in one place and you're up for election next year you gotta show up, right?”
County party chairman Joe Gruters says it took some wrangling to make it happen. “They come here because they can raise a lot of money from our donors, and because we have the best grass-roots activists in the state and they want to talk to a crowd,” Gruters says.
All three Republicans run for re-election next year. And the night's headliner, Fox News Channel commentator Sean Hannity, honored here as Statesman of the Year, agrees that their campaigns cannot start too soon. “It's important,” he says. “The issues are really lined up for 2014 and 2016 and beyond.”
And the ability to draw a paying crowd for a political rally might show Sarasota's importance in the elections to come. Gruters estimated that the event would raise between $45-50,000 for the county party, but added that the momentum means more than the numbers.