Editor's note: An earlier version of this story did not properly identify Michael Welsh, 12th Congressional District GOP chairman.
Area Republican officials say they stand strong behind GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump despite apparent campaign miscues that have area Democrats elated that they will shift support to Hillary Clinton.
“Out of the two presidential candidates, he’s still the best one,” Augusta attorney Sherry Barnes, a Trump delegate at last month’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, said Friday.
The real estate developer hasn’t released his tax returns, recently suggested that “Second Amendment people” could stop Clinton’s agenda, and attacked the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier killed in combat. He’s insisted, despite being given the opportunity to clarify, that President Obama founded the Islamic State group and claims the presidential election could be rigged.
Barnes said these comments don’t concern her.
“Donald Trump has a record of saying what he thinks,” while Clinton is a “known, recorded liar,” she said. “When she says something, she lies.”
Michael Welsh, 12th Congressional District GOP chairman, said Trump “just knows how to work the crowd. He knows what people like.”
Polling that shows Trump losing ground in Georgia and South Carolina is as unreliable as 1988 reports showing Democrat Michael Dukakis ahead of Republican George H.W. Bush, Welsh said.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Debbie McCord, another Trump convention delegate from Columbia County, said she didn’t attempt to sort through media reports of Trump statements.
“By the time I get to it on the evening news, it’s adjusted,” she said.
“Everybody I have talked to is saying he’s just being himself. He’s not a politician – he’s used to saying what he thinks,” McCord said. “He’s a brilliant man. He’s done extremely well in business. I think he’ll do great things for the country.”
One Augusta Republican had very slight reservations about Trump’s statements, but not enough to reduce his support.
“He could turn the volume down a little bit, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about him,” said former Augusta Mayor Bob Young.
He and his wife, Gwen Fulcher Young, feel the same, “especially when you consider the alternative,” Young said.
Longtime Republican party official and former delegate Dave Barbee said Trump’s recent comment about “Second Amendment people” dealing with Clinton referred to the National Rifle Association’s ability to get voters to the polls.
“No one in their right mind would think he was trying to have somebody assassinated,” Barbee said.
Trump might have “hoof and mouth disease,” but Clinton “can only lie,” he said.
“I know Trump has stretched the truth on some issues, but Hillary has out and out lied to the American people,” Barbee said.
The former reality TV star will assemble a team to make good decisions for the country, Barbee said.
“He’s got a strong backbone for success,” he said. “Trump recognizes people and their talent and he’s going to surround himself with people that are going to benefit the American people.”
Trump’s gaffes, however, have been good news to Augusta Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum.
“I’m stunned that (Clinton) is winning in Georgia,” Greenbaum said. “Trump’s insecurity has given a lot of people pause that he should not be president.”
In the state, African-American voters are “99 percent” behind Clinton, while many women are against Trump “because of his desecration of women in how he speaks.” Trump’s weakness with voters is making Georgia a swing state, and “Clinton is going to invest heavily in Georgia,” Greenbaum said.
This year is looking a lot like 1992, the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, won Georgia, he said, and Trump could help topple other Georgia Republicans in November.
“I think they’re in trouble,” Greenbaum said. “Trump may be pulling everybody down with him.”
Trump’s candidacy continues to stun Democratic delegate Franklin Williams.
“We’ve never seen anything like it – a campaign where there’s no boundaries about what you can say about the other side,” he said. “The polls are changing faster than it’s ever happened this early. Who would have though Georgia would have been in play this early?”
Trump’s campaign has opened a door to the past where Klu Klux Klan signs appear at rallies and former KKK leader David Duke feels he can make another run for elected office, Williams said.
“I have not seen this since George Wallace,” he said, referring to the pro-segregation former Alabama governor.
Clinton’s edge is so strong that downballot races will be affected, he said.
“Who would have thought the Senate race would be competitive in Georgia?” Williams said. “We are talking about a sea change that could happen in local races across the South.”