By Ronnie Moore
RINGGOLD, Ga. —; The barbecue dinners and speeches from the back of a pickup are becoming more frequent as the political season ramps up in North Georgia.
Old-time politics still is the norm for local offices, and most candidates in the Catoosa County Commission races for District 2 and District 4 seats said they embrace the grass-roots campaigning and the face-to-face approach to learning voters’ concerns.
“I prefer a personal touch,” Republican District 4 candidate Dewayne Hill said. “I believe people here prefer to meet candidates that way. They expect that style of campaigning at the local level and are more willing to talk to you about issues.”
District 4 incumbent Commissioner Ron Gracy, also a Republican, said cookouts, musical entertainment and meet-and-greet campaigning provide a forum “to meet many people while providing a more personable atmosphere.”
Both candidates said they’ve already had at least one such event and are considering more to meet voters before the July 18 GOP primary.
Mr. Gracy said the informal gatherings are a good setting to hear what residents want.
“A question I ask is, where do they want us to go in the next four years?” he said, adding he tries “to under promise and over produce” for District 4 residents.
Businessman Rodney Waters is a third Republican candidate seeking the District 4 commission seat. He said it’s a plus to meet and greet residents, but it’s getting more difficult.
“The population of the county is growing so much that it’s harder and harder to meet all voters,” he said.
Mr. Hill said he had about 200 residents attend a recent campaign event, complete with free barbecue and gospel music.
“I plan to go door to door in the later stage of the campaign,” he said. “I’ve been around gospel singing my entire life. I enjoy singing.”
Chris Scott, a teacher at Ringgold Middle School, is the lone Democratic candidate for the District 4 commission seat in the July primary.
The 38-year-old must wait until after the July Republican primary to learn which of the three Republicans he will face in the November general election.
If none of the GOP candidates wins a majority on July 18, there will be a runoff three weeks later.
The four voting precincts in District 4 are Woodstation, Keith, Poplar Springs and Blackstock.
District 2 Commissioner Bobby Winters, who is contested in his bid for the GOP re-nomination, held a barbecue at his home last month, he said.
“I’m a down-home type person,” Mr. Winters said. “I prefer to sit and talk one on one. I like to talk to voters about plans and what the county is doing, rather than make big speeches.”
He said meeting voters on an informal level over a three-month period and hearing their ideas can make a big difference in how he represents the district and county.
“In the last two or three weeks I will visit the subdivisions and hear ideas and concerns one on one,” Mr. Winters said. “That’s the best way. I did this four years ago. You meet lots of good people, visit shut-ins.”
Bernard Sims, a Republican candidate for the District 2 commission seat, said he hasn’t held informal meet and greet events.
The former dairy farmer, developer and businessman said, “Our commission districts are small enough for most residents to know a candidate and his or her reputation.”
Pat Page, the lone Democratic District 2 commission candidate, said the last time she sought a commission seat she held three or four informal, press the flesh, meetings with voters.
“All of those events were well attended,” she said. “It’s an enjoyable way to meet typical residents with whom you can connect and identify. It’s also a good way to raise money for your campaign.”
Mrs. Page said personal campaigning always seems to be a fabric of politics in Catoosa County.
“Door-to-door campaigning is how you learn the wishes of the voters,” she said. “Informal gatherings and door-to-door greeting is the best way to meet new people. That’s important because of the growth Catoosa has experienced in the past 15 years. There are many voters who have moved here in recent years.”
District 2 commission precincts are Boynton, Westside and Duncan Park.
All candidates joked and laughed at the prospect of Catoosa voters buying into a slick and polished television campaign spot developed at significant cost by a public relations group.
Their consensus: Such campaigning is too expensive and probably wouldn’t sit well with voters anyway.
E-mail Ronnie Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org