Last-minute weekend push by Dems, GOP rallies Escambia County citizens to vote
Across the United States, representatives of both major political parties scrambled to persuade voters to turnout and pledge last-minute support to their ideal candidates in the last crucial weekend before Election Day on Tuesday.
Evidence of those efforts were abundant throughout Escambia County.
The Escambia County Democratic Party had volunteers manning phonelines, making calls and reminding local party members to fill out and turn in their ballets in favor of Joe Biden.
The Escambia County Republican Party sent volunteers into neighborhoods, knocking on doors and reminding party members about Florida’s importance and how President Donald Trump sought to swing the sunshine state to his favor.
“Souls to the Polls” in downtown Pensacola on Saturday urged citizens to vote regardless of their political affiliation and provided a stage for both Democrats and Republicans to speak to the people.
Non-party-affiliated candidates and those running in local races as independents were there too.
“It’s called the ‘Souls to Polls,’ a voting rally and gospel concert,” said event organizer Bryant McCarty.
“It’s a voting rally to encourage people to get out and vote — to mobilize the vote,” McCarty continued. “We’re not endorsing a particular candidate. We're not endorsing a particular party. We're just encouraging people to get out and vote and make their own personal choice and do their civic duty.”
Held directly behind the Blue Wahoo Stadium on the edge of Pensacola Bay in Maritime Park, attendees heard local candidates speak about their platforms and the importance of voting while listening to interspersed musical acts by gospel artists such as Young Saint, who traveled from Fayetteville, North Carolina to perform at the Pensacola gig.
The event was planned by Pensacola’s Deliverance Tabernacle Christian Center working in partnership with The Equal Ground Education Fund, “a preeminent Black-led non-partisan, non-profit, working on building Black political power in Florida,” according to Meghan Dooley, a spokesperson for the organization.
The first candidate to take the stage was a Republican, Chip Simmons.
Former chief of the Pensacola Police Department, Simmons is running for the office of Escambia County Sheriff against Democrat opponent David Alexander, who is also a former PPD chief of police.
“I don’t have to tell you what I’ve done. My name is Chip Simmons. You know me,” he told the crowd of about 75 people. “You know me from the Pensacola Police Department. You know me as a narcotics officer, protecting your neighborhoods —putting these people that are ruining our neighborhoods in jail.”
Simmons pledged to Souls to the Polls' attendees that if elected sheriff, his first major reform would be to mandate that every ECSO deputy wears a body camera.
“Whenever you’re sitting at home at night, and you’re wondering, ‘What’s going to happen when I call 911; what’s going to happen if I call a deputy?’” Simmons said. “You’re going to want a deputy that is trained by someone who has experience, someone that is prepared, someone that loves their community, not just someone who can say it but someone who has done it."
And, he added, “I’ve done all that.”
Simmons' opponent, Alexander, delivered his own message to those who attended Souls to the Polls, focusing on bringing citizens and law enforcement closer together and told the News Journal that he was "the change that citizens want” in Escambia County.
“What I’m going to do is build better relationships between law enforcement and the community. They have been pitted against each other for too long, and people want that to change,” Alexander said. “Right now, the sheriff’s office says it publicly: ‘Witnesses won’t tell us anything.’
“Well,” he continued, “that’s because you don’t have a relationship. You disrespect people. I’m going to respect and protect all people.”
When Evelyn Gates decided to accept an invitation to attend Souls to the Polls, she had no idea that it was going to be political.
"I didn't know it was going to be 'Souls to the Polls.' I just love gospel music. I love to listen to it, and I can sing a little bit myself," she said, with a smile. "But, I think it's beautiful. Praise God!. It's a beautiful day; it's beautiful music.
"The message to vote, it's a good one," she continued. "A blessed message. Praise God!"
Escambia County Republican Party Chair John Roberts said that many people volunteered to canvass neighborhoods over the weekend to support the GOP.
“We’re just contacting people who we think are for Trump, and we just want to make sure that they do get out and vote. That’s really what it boils down to; it’s all a matter of turnout,” Roberts said. “And, most of Trump’s voters are highly motivated, but there are always the 3 or 4 percent that can make the difference between winning and losing that we want to make sure that we get out to vote."
Roberts planned to about two dozen Trump supporters knocking on doors throughout the weekend.
“They vary a lot,” he said, of the GOP volunteers. “We have those who spend a lot of time and those who spend just a little bit. Some people just want to put up a few lawn signs and those that spend hours with their volunteering.”
Between May and early October, Roberts said that the Escambia County Republican Party had registered approximately 2,000 new voters.
Escambia County Democratic Party's efforts led to registering about 3,000 new voters, said Sandra McCreary, vice president of the Escambia County Black Caucus and organizer with the Escambia County Democratic Party.
“What our main focus has been recently, is to get people to the early voting sites and reminding them to return their early voting ballets,” McCreary said. “We have two to 20 people on the phone every day, every day — every day.”
On Saturday afternoon, Democrats held a parade aimed at inspiring more people to vote, McCreary said. The parade started at the Brownsville Community Center and marched throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
“For Escambia County," McCreary explained, "this is the first time that we have provided voters with so much information: masks, t-shirts with the names Biden and Harris on them."