CUMMING – Amid countless American flags, name tags and campaign placards, Conrad Quagliaroli stood out more than anyone, including three candidates for governor, though he never took the stage at the Forsyth Freedom Festival.
Quagliaroli wore a sandwich board bearing an Obama campaign logo modified to include a communist hammer and sickle, accompanied by the words, “Vote the socialists out in 2010.”
The attention-getting attire got lots of looks and a few thumbs up from the more than 300 people who turned out at the Cumming Fairgrounds to hear from conservative speakers and candidates under a large horse arena shed.
Quagliaroli, a member of the Tea Party Patriots of Cherokee County, said he’s worried about the fate of the country if Democrats maintain control of Congress through the midterm elections.
“I see bumper stickers that say, ‘Is it 2012 yet?’” he said. “Well, 2012 is going to be too late. That’s why I’m here — to make people aware.”
Saturday’s event drew a number of attendees from outside the Forsyth County area, several of them tea party members who learned of the rally through the Internet.
They gave conservative radio commentator Herman Cain a sustained standing ovation as he took the stage, and later cheered as he called tea party members patriots.
Cain said people with preconceived notions of tea party activists as “a bunch of right-wing wacko racists” should “stop drinking the Kool-Aid.”
“I get standing ovations at tea parties,” said Cain, who is black. “Do you think racists would be applauding for me? I don’t think so. That doesn’t make any sense.”
John Henly, who hawked T-shirts to raise money for conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s 912 Project, said he tries to attend as many tea party gatherings as possible.
“I do think the movement is growing,” said Henly, a Lawrenceville resident who attended last September’s tea party march on Washington, D.C., and predicted a bigger turnout next year.
“It’s people getting together because they’re very frustrated over what’s happening in Washington.”
Thanya Greene and Dustin Johnson came from Douglasville to hear from the candidates and try to finalize their decisions for the July 20 Republican primary.
“I think people need to know what’s going on and educate themselves, and this is a good way to do it,” Greene said.
Interspersed through the commentary from Cain and several other conservative speakers, Republican candidates for governor Nathan Deal, Eric Johnson, Karen Handel and a host of other office-seekers gave brief stump speeches.
Deal said he believes the state government’s top four responsibilities are public safety, education, transportation and the arena of health care.
Deal noted that the federal health care bill he voted against as a U.S. House representative mandated that states increase their Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
“I don’t think that is what anybody would expect government to have to do,” Deal said. “That’s why I’m so glad that our state has joined about 19 others in challenging the constitutionality of that particular federal statute.”
Johnson said among his qualifications for the candidacy was his record in Georgia’s General Assembly.
“Anybody can quote Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh,” Johnson said. “I was the minority leader in the state Senate the same four years (Democrat) Roy Barnes was governor. I’ve taken him on, and I’ve beaten him.”
Alluding to Barnes’ likelihood of winning the Democratic nomination for governor in July, Johnson said, “I don’t want to just whip a dead horse, I want to revive him and beat him again.”
Handel said she was a lifelong conservative, “unlike many in this race who became conservative when it was politically expedient to do so,” and was a businessperson first.
“We need someone who is going to have the executive management experience not only to come up with good policy, but has the skills to implement and execute, so we can make real progress on rejuvenating our environment to create jobs,” Handel said.
“We need to understand state government is not a jobs program, and we need massive transformation and modernization of state government.”