By: The Staff Reporters of Georgia Weekly Post
Several hundred people packed the InterContinental hotel in Buckhead Friday as part of a three-day Red State Gathering in Atlanta.
The event, organized by radio talk show host Erick Erickson, was expected to draw close to a dozen top Republican presidential candidates.
The governor was a no show to welcome the large crowd.
The ballroom of the five-star hotel was full to capacity, and all other meeting space was taken.
Even the hallways were crowded.
The presidential candidates made it to Buckhead to join a conservative gathering of over 700 people, not
including more than 100 news correspondents. The site turned into a fortress, with Secret Service and security details stationed near every official. The first Republican debate, held Thursday, was on the mind of many.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts confessed he hadn’t watched the debate, but he assured this reporter that the nominee will come out of it as a much better man, or a woman.
The hallways were filled with many donors. Private dining rooms were set aside for closer encounters with the candidates and were off limits to the press.
As with Gov. Deal, Erickson did not appear to be in attendance. Many expressed disappointment at missing a chance to see the governor, now in his final term.
Business cards were passed around like confetti, many with Washington, D.C. office addresses.
The event was a public relations bonanza, and included many of the rich and connected and die-hard conservative Republicans. Some of the sponsors were local residents.
Alex Johnson represented his new "Advance the GOP" and is serving as one of the sponsors. Virginia Galloway representing "Faith & Freedom Coalition," a Duluth-based organization, was also on hand. Local conservative bloggers, writers and authors took the center stage. Jenny Beaman of Peachtree City, was among many. Beaman represented "These are the times Organization."
The Heritage Foundation took the lead among national conservative groups and PACs. Its staff made its case known with many spin doctors on the ground.
Brian Mast, a candidate for Congress from District 18 in Florida, is running for an open seat vacated by Pat Murphy, who is retiring. Murphy has his eye on Marco Rubio's Senate seat. The 35-year-old veteran is married with three children. Mast served and was injured in Afghanistan. He described the gathering as “A red meat convention."
One person who stood out in the crowd was Ronald West. Donning a large cowboy hat, West is a Texas native who now calls Georgia home. He said he’s torn between supporting former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who spoke Friday, or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who will speak Saturday. West said he is also open to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Marcie Williams made the trip from Louisiana. The 37-year-old works in oil and gas and wanted to get a close-up look at the candidates.
"I want make sure they are all on the same page to defeat the Democrats," she said. She does not see divisions among Republican candidates.
One of the most conservative Tea Party activists made an appearance at the conference. Dr. Barry Schlech, a graduate of the University of Texas-Austin. Schlech, 71, is a retired pioneer in the field of pharmaceutical research. He is proud to be the first to be politically involved in his family. After working with Texaco for 40 years, he retired and founded a grass-roots group and called it the Tea Party. Schlech considers himself a better political watcher.
The name Donald Trump was mentioned often. Trump was the missing 800-pound gorilla in the hallways of the hotel.
"Trump is more opportunistic than loyal to the party, but he is doing a great service to the GOP by channeling the anger of lots of conservatives. He is vocal, not afraid, and this is something that we like about him", Schlech said.
Another conservative who made the journey from out of state asked not to be named because he is traveling with his girlfriend, while his wife remained behind in Oklahoma City. Heading for a private luncheon with Carly Fiorina, he said he wants to make certain the next president obeys the Constitution.
His girlfriend called him a big donor to the cause.
Dr. Thomas Mensah, in his 50's, is an African-American businessman from Georgia who describes himself as an independent. He said he makes contributions to the party and not the candidates.
"It is too early to commit myself,” he said. “I wanted to take a closer look at the candidates in person."
Mensah pioneered fiber optics in the United States and spends his time between Florida and Georgia. He also writes nonfiction books.
The first debate, he said, didn’t move him to commit to a candidate, and he plans to wait and see the campaign develop.