The huge hat was a big hit.
It was red, white and blue, festooned with bows and with wide ribbons that trailed down Vesta Smith's back, and everywhere she went Friday during the Georgia Republican Convention at the Columbus Civic Center, people stopped her to ask about it.
Smith, a convention guest rather than a delegate, is president and chief executive of The American Heritage Association of Georgia, based in Alpharetta. The group aims to restore American patriotism and reconnect people with their country's history and heritage, she said.
Her big hat's role in that is to remind Americans of the Edwardian fashion, she said. She makes such hats herself, selling them for $250 to $350 to raise funds for the association.
The Big Nacho
Other patriotic regalia was for sale at an exhibit booth for Stars and Stripes Forever of Williamsburg, Va., which specializes in American-themed products such as a star-spangled blue rubber bone and a similarly white-starred red rubber ball labeled "Toys for the patriotic pet!"
Also on display were silk ties picturing U.S. presidents ($29.95 each, three for $75); American flag pins, ball caps, and of course the flags themselves; and T-shirts bearing quotes from famous Republicans. Among them:
"Government Is Not The Solution To Our Problems. Government Is Our Problem" by Ronald Reagan; "You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich . You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling wage payer down . You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred" by Abraham Lincoln; and "Living on a high octane cocktail of freedom, liberty, spirit and defiance" by Ted Nugent.
Such booths were on the Civic Center's second level, where Columbus Cottonmouths hockey fans buy their refreshments during games. Some vendor signs from the games still hung over Republican exhibitors.
Presidential candidate Ron Paul's supporters sat at a table under the sign "Big Nacho" while the Young Republicans appeared to have a space labeled "Boomer's Bar."
Speaker backs Smith
In a more upscale dining environment Friday, Georgia House District 133 incumbent Kip Smith of Columbus got a boost from Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who hosted a lunch and solicited contributions for Smith during an event at the Chattahoochee River Club.
"He's with me 110 percent," Smith said later. "If he called you, he'd probably tell you a larger percent than that."
Smith faces a challenge this year from Jack Pezold, who owns the McDonald's on Macon Road in Columbus.
Speaking of McDonalds, another politician with good news to spread Friday was Georgia Public Service Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr., who while addressing the convention took a moment of personal privilege to introduce his soon-to-be bride, Shelley Hailey, who on May 26 is to become Mrs. Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, he said.
Any young Republicans who now need inspiration ought to talk to some old-timers such as former Columbus state Sen. Seth Harp, who said he has attended every state convention since 1978.
For decades the Democrats ruled Georgia unchallenged, and Republicans could only dream of one day becoming the majority party. Their conventions were modestly funded and socially tame.
Then they started gaining, their momentum building until they dominated, taking and holding statewide offices and a majority of General Assembly seats.
Power attracts money.
"The lobbyists showed up at our convention, and the wine and beer started to flow," Harp recalled. "In previous years, there was a lot of Coke served."