With 12 days until her husband faces Barack Obama for the presidency, Ann Romney stopped for some Gainesville barbecue.
Romney made a stop at David’s Real Pit BBQ on 23rd Avenue on Thursday afternoon to meet with about 20 people while a crowd of about 100 supporters held signs and toddlers outside the restaurant.
The campaign stop — touted as a quick visit with Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan supporters — was one of several destinations for Romney in this swing state. She attended a rally in St. Augustine before booking it to Gainesville to get a take-out barbecue lunch.
Romney’s visit is among the most high-profile Republican appearances in Gainesville this election cycle. And with Alachua County becoming a more Democratic county — 59.99 percent of Alachua County votes went to Barack Obama in 2008 — her appearance marks the Republican fight to regain the county.
“We’re seeing folks that voted for Obama in 2008 switching their votes and voting for Mitt Romney,” said Jill Bader, Florida communications director for the Republican National Committee. “We’re seeing unbelievable momentum across the states in all counties, including here in Gainesville.”
As Romney walked into the restaurant Thursday, the crowd inside erupted in applause. She got food to-go, including some macaroni and cheese for the two waist-high Romney grandchildren accompanying her.
“She came up like any other person to look at the menu and order some food,” said Katy Melchiorre, chairwoman of UF College Republicans.
Shaking hands and asking names, Romney walked to each of the restaurant’s red booths. Supporters smiled giddily.
“She made sure to go to every single person in the place,” said Melchiorre, a 21-year-old political science and telecommunication senior.
“It’s nice that she can acknowledge the hard work that goes on in this town.”
By about 3:30 p.m., Romney made her way back to the campaign bus, detouring to walk up to a growing crowd that had been kept away from the restaurant by officers.
A woman shouted “Welcome to Gainesville, new first lady of the United States,” as Romney gripped hands and hugged shoulders.
Supporters held Romney signs and waved as her bus pulled away from the parking lot. There was talk of whether she tried the sweet tea.
“I think it’s awesome that she decided to come through Gainesville,” said Breonna Bristow, 19-year-old nursing sophomore at Santa Fe College. “I hope I get to see her.”
For Bristow, the Democratic majority isn’t dissuading. And Romney’s visit only reinforces that idea.
“Just because Gainesville’s more liberal, there’s also still a lot of Republicans out here,” she said. “So it’s showing us she hasn’t forgotten about us.”
Contact Meredith Rutland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann Romney walks with two of her grandchildren after greeting supporters at David’s Real Pit BBQ located on Northeast 23rd Avenue on Thursday afternoon.