Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won the Charleston County Republican Party’s straw poll Saturday as the GOP came together to organize ahead of the 2016 election season.
Former school board member Larry Kobrovsky was elected as the new party chairman, but the bigger surprise was who the GOP delegates backed for mayor of Charleston.
Former City Councilman Maurice Washington — who confirmed Saturday he will be a candidate in the non-partisan race for mayor — was picked as the favorite (28 votes), even as he said he will not formally announce until next month. He was followed by state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-West Ashley, 12 votes.
Washington was a delegate at the convention. He is starting late in the process, as the five other announced candidates are months ahead in campaigning and fundraising.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Washington, who lives in Wagener Terrace. “But I think the race is not about who raises the most money but whose message resonates most with the voters of the city of Charleston.”
Mayoral candidate John Tecklenburg was the only official candidate to show up to the gathering, shaking hands at the front door. He got 8 votes.
Saturday’s convention was part of the regular business of the party. The straw poll was loosely conducted with about 240 delegates eligible to take part.
Presidential hopeful Walker was recently in Charleston where he spoke out against unions and in support of Gov. Nikki Haley. He drew 24 votes or about 10 percent of the total.
The next top finishers were: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, 20 votes; R-Ky., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., 18 votes; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 11 votes; and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., eight votes. U.S. Sen Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., finished at the bottom with one vote. Straw votes are not considered scientific.
One potential presidential candidate did show up at the gathering, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who got three votes. He told the group that two of the biggest issues next year will be confronting radical Islam abroad and defending religious liberty at home.
Radical Islam “seeks to destroy everything you believe in,” said Santorum. He has not formally declared he’ll run for president in 2016 but was visiting multiple county convention sites Saturday, including the Berkeley County GOP. Tim Callanan was elected Berkeley County GOP chairman on Saturday.
Kobrovsky told the group that the top job of the next chairman should include both unifying and expanding the party.
“I want to be focused on our local offices like a laser beam,” he said of next year’s elections.
The chairman vote was close, with Kobrovsky pulling out a 144-107 win over political consultant Andrew Boucher.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.