The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 31, 2012

Crowd of 300 turns out to eat watermelon, listen to GOP candidates in Newton County

NEOSHO, Mo. — More than 300 Newton County residents braved the hot and humid weather Tuesday night to attend the annual watermelon feed sponsored by the Republican Women of Newton County and the Newton County Republican Central Committee.

Lynn Otey, president of the women’s group, said the watermelon feed has been a tradition in Newton County for more than 60 years. She said she is the third generation of her family to help organize the event.

“There is a lot of history here, and it’s developed over those 60 years,” she said. “That’s why it’s such a stronghold for Republicans. I have pictures of my grandparents and my mom and dad down here.”

Nick Myers, chairman of the GOP committee, said: “We have strong Republican voters in Newton County. I like to think that Newton County is the home of the Republican Party.”

Myers said loyal GOP voters in Southwest Missouri are important to the party’s candidates because they help offset votes from the more Democratic-leaning urban areas of the state.

The GOP’s dominance in the county is no question. No Democratic candidates are running for any of the local offices this year — making the Aug. 7 primary in effect the general election for the county offices.

Many state races have become contentious this year, with candidates running attack ads usually reserved for opponents from the other party, but Otey said the ads are just a way for candidates to differentiate themselves from their GOP rivals.

“It seems like the closer it gets, those ads come out,” she said. “I would say that all of the Republican candidates are conservative, so they’ve got to show a difference.”

But the negative tone of some campaign ads rubs voters like Dallas Kelly the wrong way.

“I’m not a real fan of negative campaigning,” he said while watching the candidates speak. “I’d rather hear what they’re going to try to do. I’d like to hear that they are going to work across the aisle because they’re just one individual and they need to be able to work with people, and right now we don’t see that happening too often.”

Neosho resident Kala Shuler said the negative ads are simply a product of the political climate in the country.

“There’s a lot at stake this year on the state and national level,” she said while watching from her lawn chair at the event in Big Spring Park. “I think that people are passionate about what they believe in.”

Shuler said she doesn’t mind negative ads — as long as they get their facts straight.

“I want them to be honest,” she said. “I don’t want them to lie about each other, but I think it’s OK if we know the good and the bad about who’s going to represent us.”

Kelly said he was impressed by the number of people who braved the heat to hear the candidates.

“I think it shows that there is interest here in Newton County, and folks want to see the people that are running for office and learn a little bit about them,” he said.

Shuler said events like the watermelon feed help her decide which candidates will get her vote in next Tuesday’s primary.

“I admit I don’t watch a lot of local TV, so it’s important for me to get to hear them,” she said

Myers attributed the high turnout to residents’ dissatisfaction with the current administration.

“I think it’s the function of the opportunity that the other party has given us,” he said. “It’s going to be a good year for the advocates of limited government.”

30 on the stump

MORE THAN 30 CANDIDATES for state and local offices seized a last-minute opportunity to stump for votes in preparation for the Aug. 7 primary election. Each candidate was allowed three minutes for an introduction and to make a case to voters.

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