The packed house encouraged Joe Dugan.
Sunday’s crowd for conservative darlings Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, swelled to the point that finding a seat in the third floor ballroom of Springmaid Beach Resort was no easy task. Dugan, who chairs the Myrtle Beach Tea Party, said the fourth annual S.C. Tea Party Coalition Convention saw its largest turnout yet.
“I have not walked by a single person here that didn’t stop and tell me that they were thrilled,” he said. “This is something unbelievable.”
One reason for the larger crowd – Dugan cut off preregistration for the three-day event Thursday after the total surged past 1,000 – is that this year’s convention isn’t restricted to Tea Party members and their families. The event is open to the public.
“We were preaching to the choir,” Dugan said. “We needed to reach out to more Americans and let them understand the solutions to the problems our country is facing.”
Convention organizers also spread out the appearances of the big names at the convention. Carson and Cruz energized the crowd Sunday. Former senator Rick Santorum and business mogul Donald Trump are scheduled to appear Monday.
“What I was impressed with this year as opposed to previous years is we’ve had so many more events and speakers and they’re staggered across [the convention],” said Greg Adams of Goose Creek. “The first couple of years, I noticed that all the headliners, so to speak, were stuffed on the first day. They’ve done a good job of spreading the people out.”
Carson’s emerging star power is what drew Jim and Kathy Chicosky of Indian Land to the convention. They hope to see the pediatric neurosurgeon atop the GOP ticket in 2016.
“He’s on target,” Jim Chicosky said. “He’s a good man.”
“He’s concerned about America,” Kathy Chicosky added.
The couple held one of the many “Run Ben Run” signs that peppered the crowd.
The Chicoskys migrated to South Carolina from Carson’s hometown of Detroit about a year ago. They said watching their former city fall on hard times has been difficult and they are impressed with Carson’s vision for the country.
They also think he could be president.
“Absolutely,” Jim Chicosky said. “Really, there’s no doubt in my mind.”
During his speech, Carson said his lack of experience in elected office shouldn’t bar him from considering a campaign. He criticized the idea of choosing a nominee from the “political class.”
“That hasn’t worked so well for us,” he said. “That’s why we’re in the situation that we’re in now.”
Cruz also proved to be a fan favorite, frequently drawing applause for his barbs about Democrats as well as for his remarks about the failed presidential bids of GOP nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.
“All of [them] are good, honorable, decent men,” he said. “But if we nominate another candidate in that mold, the same people who stayed home in ’08 and ’12 will stay home in 2016 and the Democrats will win again.”
Overall, the speeches touched on familiar conservative themes: concerns about immigration policy, health care, taxation and religious liberty. Both men received standing ovations.
The strong showing at this year’s convention has local conservatives optimistic about expanding the influence of the Tea Party.
“People are becoming energized again,” said Janet Spencer, chairwoman of the local Carolina Patriots group. “They don’t like the policies that have been forced down our throats. And I think they’re ready to try to take our culture back.”
Along with Santorum and Trump, Monday’s list of speakers includes S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Rep Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Tom Rice, the congressman from Myrtle Beach.
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