The event lived up to its billing -- and then some. An estimated 125 guests turned up to cheer on their hero and favorite in what is certain to be a long and arduous struggle for the Seventh District seat in Congress -- a contest that won't be settled until November 2012.
Pantano led the group in prayer, then launched into a patriotic stump speech that pounced on liberal Democrats far and wide, promising that GOP stalwarts in North Carolina would be in the front ranks to rout them from their cushy incumbent lethargy.
A pulse-quickening display of fireworks flared brilliant against the night sky. The "Pirate Flotilla" arrived to the thunder of booming cannon. When the echoes faded, one person onshore --doubtless a Republican -- was heard to inquire: "Is Obama the captain of this boat? He's a pirate isn't he?"
Then it was down to business. I interviewed candidate Ilario Pantano about his campaign and the Riverfest GOP spin-off:
VS: It's a beautiful night, and your supporters are obviously fired up. What is this event all about?
It’s a celebration, and our chance to thank our growing ranks of supporters for all their hard work at the grassroots level. As I said, we’ve been building for seven months, and we have seven months to go. The heavy lifting starts now, and I say it matters. It matters more than ever. And I have a sense they all agree.
VS: You've always depended on strength and energy at the grassroots and precinct level. How is this ramping up?
VS: Many in the political game just talk the talk. But you claim to walk the walk. What does that mean actually?
VS: So you feel he has only gained strength and wisdom from being in the political arena?
VS: Ilario will face off in the GOP primary against State Senator David Rouzer of Johnston County. What do you expect from him as a candidate?
This race is a struggle between the old guard of the Republican Party and the newer members who are committed Constitutionalists and want to take our country back to work for the general well-being of the people. Mr. Rouzer is a bright young man, but is basically a Washington insider, and also a product of the system for a number of years. My personal opinion is that David Rouzer getting into this race will be good for Ilario, because of the stark contrast between the politician, David Rouzer, and the patriot, Ilario Pantano.
VS: You hang your hat in Brunswick County. How do you size up the conservative Republican base there?