Haley crowd size disputed

Greenville NewsAugust 27, 2013 

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley hugs and greets supporters after announcing her re-election bid outside the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville. Haley was joined by Governors Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott was also onstage for the event.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Republicans and Democrats are at odds over how many people showed up at the re-election announcement of Gov. Nikki Haley in Greenville on Monday and what those numbers mean.

Haley’s campaign estimates that almost 300 people attended the event outside the BI-LO Center that featured Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, while Democrats argue the number is between 75 and 100.

“We think it’s great that nearly 300 people left work early on a Monday to come to the rally and show support for the work Gov. Haley is doing, and the energy at both the rally and the finance event were inspiring,” Rob Godfrey, a political adviser to the governor, told GreenvilleOnline.com.

Roxanne Cordonier, first vice chairman of Democratic Women of Greenville County, who attended the event with about 70 other protesters, said she was surprised at the number of Haley supporters.

She said eliminating news media and staff, about 75 people were there at the peak of the rally.

“I was shocked by that,” she said. “And I still am. Usually we’re the ones who have the poor turnout.”

Kristin Sosanie, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, said that media reports Monday estimated the crowd size at between 60 and 100.

“Despite bringing in three big-name out-of-state governors to help her build a crowd, Nikki Haley barely brought out more supporters than protesters for her big re-election announcement in deep-red Greenville County yesterday,” she said.

Republicans who were there disagreed with Sosanie but declined to estimate the crowd. They said the attendees formed a good-sized group.

“It wasn’t an overflow, but for a Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock on a hot August day, it was a pretty good crowd,” said Chip Felkel, a Greenville GOP political consultant, who attended.

Luke Byars, a Columbia GOP political consultant whose staff attended, said the overall image of Haley with three other governors in front of a giant American flag was more important than the numbers of attendees.

Bob McAlister, a former chief of staff for the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, who now works as a Columbia media consultant, said more than 200 people attended Haley’s fund-raising event afterward.

“To me the really impressive thing was the fundraiser,” he said. “To get people on a business night from all over the state to drive to Greenville for a fundraiser, that was extraordinary,” he said.

Mark Tompkins, a University of South Carolina political science professor, described estimates of turnout as “modest.”

“I suspect that the governor and her staff are disappointed by the modest turnout,” he said, “and with the national press paying attention to the event, the concern must be even more pronounced.”

Danielle Vinson, a Furman University political science professor, said she would have expected more people to attend. She said one woman going to the event called her to tell her she was going to see U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who was on stage with the governors.

“The fact of the matter is, in the Upstate, you ought to be able to get people there in large numbers for any type of Republican gathering that includes names like those she brought in,” she said. “And the fact she didn’t says either people were not so enthusiastic or they did a terrible job advertising it.”

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the numbers are meaningless.

He pointed to arguments by the manager for the campaign of former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney who contended until the end that the large crowds their candidate drew was a sign of victory.

“I learned decades ago not to judge campaigns by crowd turnouts,” he said. “There are a thousand things more important than that. It’s very, very misleading.”

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