BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Republican Party, divided by a bitter presidential primary and sometimes-acidic County Commission battles, vowed to bury the hatchet Friday evening.
Nearly 200 local GOP candidates, activists and party members attended a "Unity Rally" at the county fairgrounds that was soaked with party solidarity and conservative red meat.
"One of the things we are good at is rallying behind the winner of the primary," said U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, one of the featured speakers.
Former County Commission candidates who once opposed each other said they had put the campaign behind them.
"It was decided. The votes were counted," said Michael Burmann, who finished second in the nasty District 1 Republican primary. Other losing candidates, he added, "just got to get over it."
It's not always that easy, especially when some in attendance took issue with the prominent role of local activist Blaise Ingoglia as the master of ceremonies.
Ingoglia, who instigated division by opposing Republican Commissioner Jeff Stabins in the August primary, tried to rally the crowd and stuck to a safe message, but still spoke more than Ana Trinque, chairwoman of the Republican Executive Committee.
"It is our job, our duty, to spread the Republican message and make sure we do everything we can to get our (Republican) candidates elected in November," Ingoglia said.
Brown-Waite said Ingoglia should not have been a part of the event because of his divisiveness, especially after he made a racially insensitive joke at a recent GOP function.
"I don't think that kind of attack brings our party together," she said of Ingoglia. She added, "He's not (even) a member of the executive committee."
Paul Douglas, a black Republican who felt offended by the joke, initially came to the event but left before it started because he felt it was "hostile."
"I was warned that there were a few people inside that said if I walked inside they would spit in my face," he said. "I thought it best that I not tempt those people."
Trinque called the entire episode a "nonissue."
If those in attendance could agree on anything it was the national ticket — specifically John McCain's pick for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"We may not all agree on John McCain, but we all agree on Sarah Palin," Delmar Johnson, a deputy executive director with the state party, said to a cheering crowd. Johnson spoke on behalf of state party chairman Jim Greer, the keynote speaker who could not attend.
Johnson called Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama "a little scary" and implored any once-reluctant Republican troops to get active and not stay at home on Election Day.
"In Hernando County, it's not a question of winning; it's a question of winning big," he said. "There's no way John McCain wins and our party wins without (a victory in) Florida."
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.