Democrats gather for “pep rally'' fundraiser


Jon Reiskind, the chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Party, addresses the audience during the 14th Annual Lawton Chiles Gala put on by the Alachua County Democratic Party at the UF Hilton Hotel in Gainesville Sunday Sept. 30, 2012. Reiskind will step down as chair after this year.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 10:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 10:46 p.m.

Democrats paraded into the UF Hilton Hotel and Conference Center on Sunday night for the 14th annual Lawton Chiles Gala Alachua County Democratic Party Fundraiser — a festive dinner party to celebrate the influence of Democrats in the state and the country.

Red, white and blue balloons hovered above tables garnished with crisp, white cloth napkins.

Political satire intermingled with social responsibility during a skit portraying Gov. Mitt Romney's preparation for Wednesday's debate with President Barack Obama.

The skit led into a speech by State Sen. Nan Rich.

"This is the kind of energy that will return Barack Obama to the White House, Bill Nelson to the U.S. Senate and put more Democrats where they need to be: in the halls of Congress and in the state capital," Rich told the cheering crowd of around 480.

"The voters are not undecided here," Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party and keynote speaker, said to loud applause.

"We're going to start the process of recapturing Tallahassee and turning this state around," Smith told the enthusiastic audience.

Jon Reiskind, chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Party, said he anticipates that the Nov. 6 election will have an enormous impact on the direction of the country.

"This election is about our future," Reiskind said.

Former Alachua County Commissioner Margaret Eppes said she feels confident about the direction of the election so far, saying "Obama is ahead, clearly everywhere."

Still, Eppes said she is cautious because she knows that the outcome can change overnight.

Mayor Craig Lowe said that Alachua County represents the values of the Democratic Party.

"Alachua County very much represents the breadth of the Democratic Party with respect to the environment, concern for our nation's economy and keeping that moving in a manner that really does take the future of innovation into consideration. But also the fact that Alachua County is a place that very much values the contributions of every person," Lowe said.

A silent auction of art, jewelry, local foods, books and many other items took place while band Weeds of Eden, composed of local Democrats such as Robert Hutchinson, played a cover of Talking Heads' "Home." The band paused at one point to pose for a photo with a cardboard cutout of Obama.

"It's wonderful. You can just see the pleasure among people running into each other. It's like a pep rally," said event organizer Pat Bern.

"The money we raise goes directly to local candidates," Bern said, adding that it is also used to keep the party's local office open year round in Alachua County.

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