George W. Bush took a bus tour through the Florida Panhandle, my old stomping grounds. The fact that he was well-received is no surprise; the “Redneck Riviera” is easily the most conservative section of Florida (it’s also where the polls hadn’t yet closed when the press called the state for Gore four years ago). In Okaloosa County, home to Eglin Air Force Base, Bill Clinton actually finished third in 1992.
All that said, the turnout for Bush’s apperances was astonishing: 10,000 people in Pensacola, filling the Civic Center to capacity (Bush was edged by only AC/DC for the largest audience in the venue’s history). Another big crowd showed in Niceville, just north of Eglin, and an amazing 23,000 turned out in Panama City.
Folks, the population of Panama City is about 36,000. Nearly two-thirds of the populace showed up to cheer for a political candidate. According to a friend of mine who was there, they had to wait in line for three hours to get tickets, then another three hours to go through security.
Did I mention this was all in a driving rain, with thunder and lightning going off like firecrackers?
The bottom line to all of this: There ain’t nothing wrong with Bush’s base. If he can turn out 23,000 peole to stand in the rain for six hours in Panama City, that base is going to turn out like crazy to push a couple of buttons in a voting booth come November.
UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Geraghty at NRO’s Kerry Spot for the plug. Jim’s also correct, the 23,000 number did apparently come from the Bush campaign (I didn’t catch that), but Panama City’s WJHG does report the crowd there numbered “near 20,000,” and I’ve heard 20,000 from several folks who were at the rally. The local paper isn’t available online without a subscription, and most of the wire stories were filed from either Pensacola or Niceville.