Monday, April 11, 2011

Leland, the little town that could, hosts launch of Pantano campaign which shares the same spirit.

 By Verne Strickland
April 11, 2011


A lot of people have breakfast in Brunswick County every morning. This breakfast was different. Eggs, sausage. But no grits, a Southern staple. 

As I availed myself of a modest serving of the available vittles on the buffet line, I asked a lady behind me what was in the second serving tray. Grits? She said she didn’t think so. 

“I believe those are hash browns,” she finally said.

I knew that. I tell the story to make a point. We native Southerners are not the only ones in the South anymore.

And you know what? That’s great. The Cape Fear Region, which offers a wonderful, temperate climate, an ocean, and friendly people everywhere, is a favorite nesting place for Northerners who’ve pulled up deep roots above the SFL (serious frost line), and planted them here.

Brunswick County has been a favorite. It is touted as one of the fastest growing counties in North Carolina – and ranks near the top nationally as a retirement and vacation destination as well.

“I wouldn’t say we usually come for the grits,” one good-natured newcomer admitted.

Whatever. They come. And they are not only a windfall for the economy. Their exodus from above the Mason Dixon line – in many cases way above – is a priceless windfall for conservative and Republican political activists in North Carolina’s southeastern congressional districts – many known as hidebound Democratic strongholds for as much as one hundred and fifty years. 

This story isn’t about grits. It’s about politics. Government. Philosophy. Core personal beliefs of the population here – a population being seeded with a host of new citizens who know that there is life after the Democratic Party.

They are becoming a critical mass which promises to break the grip of  entrenched Democrats on government at community, county, district, state and national levels.

The new elected leaders in government are certain to bring political evolution. But the changes already being seen appear more similar to a revolution – at least at the ballot box.

The new wave of leaders is hungry for change, impatient with a status quo which has brought mounting deficits, fiscal irresponsibility, arrogance, unresponsive treatment of constituents, declining governmental transparency, liberal attitudes on social issues, disrespect for American ideals, and a cynicism and moral laxity.

All this deeply disturbs many conservatives who are making North Carolina’s Southeastern and Piedmont area their home. 

But the fare at this April 9 breakfast gathering at Two Guys Grille in Leland is not the story. It’s what the gathering was all about, why the location has more than casual significance, and about the ripples that will widen and affect lives and institutions far beyond this once rural and undistinguished community.

Leland, you see, is becoming a thriving hub of commerce, a spreading cluster of vital residential developments where professionals, retirees and wage-earners live, raise families, work and play. 

It is one of the fastest growing incorporated communities in what is called the Cape Fear Region. Some joke that Leland may annex Wilmington in the future.

This is where conservative Republican Ilario Pantano chose to launch his campaign for the U.S. Congressional seat in North Carolina’s Seventh District – his second bid to defeat Mike McIntyre, who is now embarked on his eighth two-year term in office. 

McIntyre did win, but not by much. That was only months ago. One of the drawbacks the former U.S. combat Marine had to deal with was lack of time – only ten months to build an organization, gain awareness among the region’s Republicans, conservative Democrats and unaffiliated voters, raise funds, and come out of the starting blocks at warp speed.

Facing an incumbent who is a street-smart politician posing as a Southern gentleman, Pantano had an uphill battle against all odds, going up against a “Blue Dog” Democrat with momentum, money, and insider connections with a liberal political machine which provided clout at City Hall, the county courthouse, the State Legislature, and the U.S. Congress.

Running against McIntyre and this stacked deck was audacious. But neither Ilario Pantano nor the patriotic and motivated supporters who flocked to his campaign paid any attention. They ignored that deficit of influence and big money, which at the eleventh hour (courtesy of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the DNCC), pumped a cash infusion of over $500,000 into McIntyre’s re-election drive to stave off a spirited challenge by political newcomer Pantano.

There was disappointment, but instead of despair, Pantano’s core team went into think tank mode and began to plan for a second run at Mike McIntyre.  This time, they said early on, they would succeed. 

The Leland breakfast arranged by the Pantano for Congress Committee drew an energized phalanx of 125 Pantano faithful who socialized, had a group breakfast (sans grits) and listened to informal presentations by GOP stalwarts who will figure prominently in the 2012 Seventh District Republican primary effort.

Ilario Pantano led the charge. Others who spoke included Congressman Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), who spoke by a two-way audio hook-up from his Washington office; George Bell of Leland, chairman of the Brunswick County GOP; and District Attorney Jon David, a Republican elected in November 2004
 
This article detailing the 2012 bid by Pantano to unseat incumbent Mike McIntyre is only the first installment in a series of posts dedicated to the April 9th kick-off. We will feature presentations by prominent Republican leaders who for the Pantano 2012 run for the U.S. Congress. Their comments give an insightful preview of what this campaign is all about, as told by some of the conservatives who will play key roles.

In his invitation to the event, Candidate Pantano asked, “Are you ready to finish what we started?”
Judging by the rousing response from Pantano faithful, the answer left no doubt that they are not only ready -- but willing, able and not to be denied.

That this should happen in Leland, an idea that started small but expanded beyond all expectations, is quite fitting.