By TUQUYEN MACH, WMBB-TV
The Panhandle takes the spotlight on the national political stage, as the Republican presidential hopeful makes a stop in Panama City. Senator John McCain arrived in Bay County around 2:30 p.m. Friday, a few hours before the Country First Concert with singer John Rich of Big & Rich.
The Senator greeted an eager crowd at the Panama City Marina. “Thank you, citizens of the Panhandle, for your support of the brave young Americans who are serving this country in harm’s way so the rest of us can remain free,” McCain told the cheering crowd.
McCain, with his wife Cindy and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, asked for support. “Florida will be a swing state, my friends. The Panhandle will matter,” McCain told the audience.
Country music singer John Rich is a big supporter, writing a song about the presidential candidate called “Raisin’ McCain.”
According to the McCain campaign, the Secret Service estimates more than 3,000 people turned out for the event.
“I’m here to see our next president, and I know he’s going to win,” says Bay County resident Millie Moritz.
“I love to listen to John Rich, and I also wanted my youngest son to be here. It’s kind of a historical thing to possibly see the next president,” says Kathy Patterson, a Bay County resident.
“Just come out to see what John McCain had to say, and I’ve never really heard him. I’ve seen him on the news a couple of times, but never really checked him out,” says National Guard member Mike Feightner.
Senator McCain spoke for a couple of minutes before going into the crowd and shaking hands with enthusiastic supporters.
Not all present supported McCain, two small groups of demonstrators stood outside.
“Basically we believe that neither one of them are qualified to or capable to be the commander and chief,” says demonstrator Harry Riley.
Earlier in the day, McCain spoke to reporters at the Bay Point Marriott, where he addressed the nation’s energy crisis. It’s been called the number one issue in the campaign.
“It’s time that the Congress came together, Republican and Democrat, and we know it is under Democratic majority in both houses, and address the issue of energy independence,” McCain told reporters.
Members of the press corps included 10 year-old Panama City resident Michael Riordan, a special correspondent for Scholastic News.
“He’s always been like coming out dramatically, and there’s always been music playing before,” Riordan noted about McCain.
“I need your support. I’ve always put my country first. I will put my country first as President of the United States. I will serve this country with honor. I will make you proud, and I will never let you down,” McCain told the crowd.
The last time McCain visited Panama City was in 2004 on a campaign stop with President George W. Bush.