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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Political 'tails' aplenty at Florida's 47th annual Possum Festival



WAUSAU, Fla. -- It's a Florida political tradition like no other: the annual Possum Festival. Hundreds turned out Saturday in the small Washington County town of Wausau for an event that always draws a big crowd in an election year as candidates bid on possums and take turns hoisting the camera-shy critters by the tail to the delight of a small-town audience.

"It wasn't bad!" said a relieved congressional candidate Mary Thomas after twirling a possum at her first Possum Festival. "It's fantastic. This is what our country's all about." 

Thomas' GOP primary rivals, Neal Dunn and Ken Sukhia, also placed mandatory bids on possums as the marsupial madness went on for more than an hour, featuring Rep. Brad Drake and his Republican rival Bev Kilmer, and candidates up and down the local ballot for county commission, school board, property appraiser, sheriff and state attorney.

State Attorney Glenn Hess, running for a fourth term in a six-county circuit anchored by Panama City, had a parade float festooned with plastic possums. Sheriff candidate Chris Ellis' flatbed truck had a banner that said: "Don't play possum on election day! Vote!"

Politics is serious stuff in this part of Florida, but candidates were limited to three-minute speeches just the same. Folks in Wausau would much rather listen to bluegrass, gospel or country -- including a local singer who did a dead-on impression of "The Possum" himself, George Jones, and his signature song "She Thinks I Still Care."

On the festival grounds just outside the "Possum Palace," the local fire rescue pavilion where the event is held, you could buy "gator on a stick" or compete in a greasy pole climbing contest where the winner got a $50 bill at the top. One flea market vendor was selling "The Red Devil," an antique electric chair, for "$1,500 firm," the tag read.

Washington County, where Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has very deep family roots, is one of those places that for generations was deep blue, but since the 1990s has become red, especially in presidential years. There was no whiff of Democratic grass-roots enthusiasm at Saturday's festival except for a local DEC banner roasting in the 95-degree heat, but a Donald Trump table drew a steady stream of people, including 19-year-old Makenzie Gawronski of Chipley, who registered to vote and is starting school this month at a local technical college.

Will she vote for Trump? "I'm not sure yet," she said. "I'm probably going to vote for him."

[Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2016 10:02am]


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