PLANT CITY — Newt Gingrich got his afternoon off to a heavy start: Rutabagas, collards, fried okra and tomatoes, cornbread.
“Then he switched to the fruit and chicken salad,” said Fred Johnson, owner of Fred’s Southern Kitchen, as Gingrich’s campaign bus rolled away. “I think his wife made him.”
Gingrich made a stop Tuesday at Plant City’s well-known buffet restaurant before heading to Orlando, where he’ll watch the primary results.
He shook hands, ignored most questions from the press, took a prayer card from a woman, signed a kid’s piece of notebook paper beside the phrase “Future President.”
He had some fans at Fred’s.
“Oh, Lord, I’m about to have a heart attack,” said Anna Furney, a 72-year-old Plant City resident, after she hugged him hello. “I was as excited as when I hugged my husband after we got married.”
“He’s got convictions, he’s tenacious,” said Diane Gale, 59, of Palm Harbor, who handed him the prayer card.
She said she thinks he’s the most conservative Republican nominee, and the one most likely to beat President Barack Obama in the general election.
Amelia Bohner, 72, of St. Petersburg, agreed. “I’m afraid Romney is a wuss,” she said.
Bohner added that she didn’t care about what some perceive as Gingrich’s personal baggage.
“I don’t care if he’s been married three times,” said Bohner. “I’ve been married five times. I don’t condemn him. It hasn’t been boring!”
Other diners hadn’t been particularly excited about seeing Gingrich, or the entourage of campaign workers and reporters who followed.
“They didn’t have my fried green tomatoes, then I had to put up with all this,” said John Fritter, 73, of Zephyrhills. He said he’d have rather seen Donald Trump.