DI residents help lead SC Presidential Campaigns
Viewers of The Celebrity Apprentice were certainly not used to hearing this phrase from Donald J. Trump while watching his former reality TV show. But it’s exactly what Trump told Daniel Island resident Jim Merrill about a year ago, when he asked him to come onboard as the director of his South Carolina Presidential Campaign.
Merrill, who has served as a representative in the S.C. General Assembly since 2001, runs his own public relations and marketing firm when not conducting state business. As part of that work, he has assisted in numerous political campaigns for candidates, including John McCain, George W. Bush, and Dan Quayle. He crossed paths in early 2015 with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s national campaign director, which prompted conversations about joining the Trump team.
“We talked through everything and finally Mr. Trump took us up to New York to meet with him,” recalled Merrill. “And when we sat down I realized he was indeed very serious about making this run and very committed to it. I was sold.”
Despite Trump’s celebrity status and bold and brash reputation, Merrill said he had no reservations about joining the candidate’s team.
“It was intriguing,” he said. “It was an honor to be asked.”
And with that Merrill hit the campaign trail in full force, entering into one of the busiest political seasons of his life. Merrill schedules all of Trump’s visits to South Carolina, handles media inquiries, security details, volunteers and more. With Trump pulling in thousands at each campaign stop, it is no easy task. A recent stump session in Lexington County drew 8,000, another 7,000 to 9,000 filled a crowd in Rock Hill, and 5,000 popped in for Trump’s visit to Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant last December.
“It’s night and day between the other candidates,” added Merrill, when asked to compare what running a Trump campaign is like versus the other candidates he has represented. “You normally don’t see a situation like Trump’s until the party nominee is named…Very close to the election you’ll see this kind of support, but even then the crowds and the fervor that he is creating is more so now in comparison to that. It’s really something I have not experienced.”
Trump continues to lead in most national polls, despite criticisms that he can be rude and insulting towards those who cross him. But Merrill chalks up the candidate’s popularity to a unique campaign message that he believes is resonating with voters.
“Mr. Trump has a level of celebrity and name identification that is really kind of unmatched,” he said. “Amazingly, he is changing the template for how you run for office and it’s refreshing to see somebody who is not beholden to special interests or big donors and is willing just not to bother with political correctness. That’s 100 percent the hallmark of his campaign, and it’s genuine and sincere.”
Trump’s recent win in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary was certainly welcome news to Merrill and all who are working on the billionaire businessman’s campaign. Trump was in the Palmetto State for 11 days leading up to the February 20 Primary, appearing at rallies in “no less than 12 towns,” said Merrill, who coordinated Trump’s schedule and was on the road almost the whole time.
“We began early and ran late into the night virtually every day,” he added. “…I imagine Mr. Trump spoke to at least 100,000 people at those events….I was very happy when Saturday evening finally arrived. Mr. Trump and his family were ecstatic and very thankful to the people of South Carolina. He won all 50 delegates. It was amazing.”
DI’s Kristin Power coordinates SC campaign for former Presidential Candidate Jim Gilmore
Daniel Island has had another key player stumping for a Presidential candidate this election season. Kristin Power served as South Carolina Campaign Coordinator for former GOP candidate Jim Gilmore from August 2015 to February 2016.
Gilmore, who served as governor of Virginia from 1998-2002, reached out to a friend of Power’s in search of a recommendation for someone who could help lead his South Carolina campaign. Soon, Power got a phone call.
“I was recommended,” she said. “I’ll never forget the day my phone rang and I heard on the other end of the line, ‘Ms. Power? This is former Governor Jim Gilmore from Virginia. I am running for President of the United States and I’d like for you to join my campaign team.’ Never in my life did a little girl from Maine, who used to sing and dance in the rain, think she would one day be working on a Presidential campaign. It was a cool moment.”
Aside from writing speeches and assisting on local or civic group campaigns, Power admits politics was not really her area of expertise before taking the job. Still, she was up for the challenge and eager to hit the campaign trail.
“I knew it would be hard work, strategic and intense at times,” said Power, founder and current board member of the Daniel Island Exchange Club. “Those expectations were accurate. Though the whole process I gained a huge appreciation for campaign employees. The long days and nights, the constant flow of information, and need to problem shoot or accurately and quickly respond to a particular statement, situation, et cetera, is intense.”
Power added that she had many memorable moments from her experience with Governor Gilmore’s campaign, but seeing Americans “fight” for their country was perhaps the most moving.
“We saw young, old, parents, children, grandparents, and no matter what they believed in, they all wanted the same thing - a safe and thriving country. I was also very impressed with the younger generation of voters. Gilmore spoke at the University of South Carolina a few times and the questions and insight these students had about politics and the current state of our country was mind blowing.”
Gov. Gilmore bowed out of the race on February 15, ending his campaign. “It was such an amazing experience for me,” added Power. “It opened my eyes in so many ways, grew me professionally and personally, and afforded me the opportunity to feel like I was a part of the conversation and not just sitting helpless on the sidelines.”
The position also offered Power a unique perspective on politics and a newfound respect for those who seek the nation’s highest office.
“Being a Presidential candidate, no matter how strong and confident you are, is not easy work. It’s long hours and constant scrutiny, and whether you agree with a candidate or not, there is a certain level of respect that should be given to someone that exposes themselves to all of those things on our behalf. I will definitely walk away from this experience focusing on what positive qualities, proven plans, and expertise candidates bring to the table that will better our country for our citizens. Happy voting!”