Record numbers welcome top state, local officials and candidates

VERO BEACH — A sell-out crowd turned out Saturday afternoon to see and hear Republican primary candidates running for offices ranging from Governor on down to Indian River County School Board.

More than 250 people packed the Heritage Center in Vero Beach for the Republican Rally put on by the county’s three Republican women’s clubs. Event chair Rose Spytek said she thought participation from top-level Florida officials Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp and Attorney General Bill McCollum helped draw the crowds. “It was one of the very best rallies we’ve ever had and the committee worked very hard,” Spytek said. “It was the first time we’ve sold out, and it was the best participation we’ve had from high-ranking officials. We still have local forums, but the state candidates usually can’t come because they’re not in town.”

Spytek said all Republican candidates for local and state office were invited, but that some declined or had scheduling conflicts.

The rally attendees enjoyed barbecue from Bob Evans in between long sets of speeches and recognition of volunteers and teen-agers who have contributed to the efforts of the party.

Kottkamp, who is being heavily supported in his race for Attorney General by Vero Beach entrepreneur Bob Stork, told his personal story of growing up the son of a dump-truck driver and being the first person in his family to go to college. He tried to connect with “ordinary” Indian River County residents struggling to hold jobs and families together in tough economic times.

“There are no ordinary Americans, we are an extraordinary people,” Kottkamp said.

McCollum, who is running for Governor, also made the rounds with Stork and met the dozens of current and former city, county and state officials present at the event.

The candidates for Florida House, County Commission and School Board who are facing opponents in the August primary were given a few minutes each to distinguish themselves from the competition. The only noted absence was District 2 candidate and former Sebastian City Councilwoman Dale Simchick, who could not attend due to the death of her mother.

State Senators Mike Haridopolos and Joe Negron received a warm welcome, as did retiring Rep. Ralph Poppell. Poppell said he has not yet endorsed any of the candidates slated to replace him in the Florida House District 80 seat, but has “worked to help several people.”

Haridopolos addressed the budget crunch affecting families and governments at every level and the challenges he will face as incoming Senate President next session.

“We will make you proud, but it will also test our Conservative credentials like never before,” he said. “Yes, we’re in a tough spot, but that is what makes Floridians and Indian River County and Republicans better than ever.”

Negron, who was a main sponsor of Saturday’s event, said he was appreciative of the venue at the historic, welcoming location of the Heritage Center.

“This reminds me of the quintessential way to run for office,” Negron said.

Poppell said he will miss legislating in Tallahassee after four terms of service and may not be out of politics for good. When asked if he’d be content in retirement and resuming his hobbies of fishing and boating full-time, Poppell suggested probably not.

“In a few years, I may go back and try for a Senate seat,” Poppell said.

Both Sen. Negron and Sen. Haridopolos are rising stars of the Florida Republican Party and are expected to move on to something bigger as soon as a good opportunity presents itself. the Florida Legislature also has term limits that force officials to shift plans.

Congressman Bill Posey, who is also up for re-election this year, was the only candidate for federal office in attendance who represents Indian River County. Congressman Adam Putnam also spoke, but he represents neighboring counties.

The Republican Primary is scheduled for Aug. 24 and the General Election will be Nov. 2.

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