FLOWERY BRANCH — This election cycle seems to have piqued the interest of local Republicans early, and a number of them cite the presidential election as the reason.
And while their desire to have a Republican commander in chief is almost palpable, they aren’t discounting local elections.
Nearly 100 people crammed into the Spout Springs library’s meeting room Tuesday night to hear what some 20 aspiring elected Republican officials had to say.
The day before, some 85 people pushed their way into an upstairs room at a Cleveland branch of Community Bank & Trust to see one of the first debates of the 9th District congressional race.
And over the weekend, some 500 Republicans met in Jefferson to rally the base for the coming election cycle.
Flowery Branch resident Ann Boles came to Tuesday’s event, sponsored by the South Hall Republican Club, more than a month ahead of the date candidates must qualify for their prospective races.
She said it seemed to be the only way to learn about the candidates this early in the game.
“My husband and I vote early every year, and the paper hardly gets somebody in there in time for us to know anything about them before we vote,” Boles said. “I thought this would be a wonderful chance to come and see who everybody is.”
Sid Rodrigue, also from Flowery Branch, said he’s showed up to as many of the South Hall Republican Club meetings as he could lately, hoping to meet with as many candidates as he can before Election Day.
“So much corruption has been introduced on all levels — county level, state level and particularly the federal level — and we see that very much with our current president,” said Rodrigue.
Hunter Jones and Nash Blun, some of the youngest members of the Republican Club’s audience Tuesday, said that this year’s election was especially important to Republicans, who are galvanized by their desire to oust President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
“Every time a candidate — it doesn’t matter where they are, even at this local level — they mention Obama, and they’re going to get an ovation,” Blun said. “They’re going to get cheers. People are going to clap. They love it.”
Locally, Boles said she thinks the race to be Georgia’s newest congressman or congresswoman is likely the most important one Northeast Georgia voters will participate in this year.
“I think that’s probably a big deal for us ...” said Boles, who said she’s supporting conservative radio personality Martha Zoller.
But Rodrigue said he was just as concerned with more local races, specifically the race for Hall County’s next sheriff and probate judge.
Rodrigue said he thinks Jon P. Strickland might be the best candidate for sheriff, calling him a well-spoken, professional “lawman.” But Rodrigue is also judging the race based on candidates’ physical attributes.
“(Jon P. Strickland) is the only one that seems to be chiseled out of stone,” Rodrigue said. “When you shake his hand, you know you’re shaking hands with a man with strength.”
Rodrigue, noting he had voted for president 10 times in his life, said “a lot of politicians get fat,” which he equates with corruption.
“There’s no fat on him,” Rodrigue said of Jon P. Strickland. “There’s no excess weight. The Sheriff’s Office should be represented by a man of strength, and he denotes that.”
Rodrigue was also paying attention to another race that normally gets swept under the rug: probate judge.
At Tuesday’s forum, three women seeking to be Hall County’s next probate judge — Lisa Maniscalco, Patty Walters Laine and Brook Davidson — pitched their candidacy to the crowd.
Deciding between them is important for Rodrigue, a self-professed lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, because of what he and the candidates said were issues with the gun-permitting process in Hall County.
“I’m really interested in preserving our Second Amendment rights and it starts with gun permitting and the probate judge is the one that issues the gun permits,” said Rodrigue.
Blun, an 18-year-old Flowery Branch resident, said he, too, paid attention to local politics, because he felt that was the place where his voice could be heard the clearest.
“People actually listen to what you say, because it’s on a much more personal basis than a TV screen,” Blun said.
But he wasn’t particularly impressed by the local sheriff’s race, saying sheriffs “tend to be one and the same.”
Seven men are running to succeed Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic, and all have some sort of law enforcement experience. Three of them — Jon P. Strickland, John Sisk and Jeff Strickland — spoke at Tuesday’s forum in Flowery Branch.
“They all have pretty much the same background and the same experience, they just have little slightly different ways they want to go,” Blun said.
Blun and Jones were, by far, the youngest members in the crowd of voting age Tuesday.
Jones voted for the first time in the presidential preference primary this year, and both said they helped Dominic Ottaviano on his bid for James Mills’ old state House seat last year. Rep. Emory Dunahoo won that election, and is seeking re-election this year.
Jones wore a “Martha! for Congress” sticker on his white T-shirt Tuesday night, but said he was trying to “keep a level head” about the candidates. Blun, too, said he was leaning toward Zoller, because what he’d heard from other people indicated her views seemed to line up with his values, which he said were similar to those of the Libertarian Party.
“From what I’ve heard she tends to you know agree with most of my values,” Blun said. “I’m leaning toward Martha, but I could change my mind.”
Blun has three months to make that decision.
Party primaries aren’t until July 31.