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Stumping In The Small Towns

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With candidate Rick Santorum making a stop, Popes at the White House welcomed its largest crowd.

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With candidate Rick Santorum making a stop, Popes at the White House welcomed its largest crowd. Photo: Tanner Latham Republican candidates are crisscrossing the state of South Carolina leading up to Saturday's primary. There are the big events in city convention centers, like Monday night's debate in Myrtle Beach. But there is also a lot of old-fashioned retail politics. They squeezed into booths at meat-and-three cafes and barbecue joints in small towns with names like Ridgeway and Blythewood. We wondered if these campaign appearances are welcome changes or an unwelcome distraction. Jim Pope, who owns a restaurant called Popes at the White House, lives by an optimistic, never-say-never business creed he simply calls, "Not Yet." Jim Pope (left) and his son Jason give the hand sign for their business philosopy, "Not Yet." Photo: Tanner Latham "People say, 'Are you doing this?' We say, no. Not yet," said Pope. "But we plan on doing it. We're wide open." That's what he said when his brother Tommy, a state representative, asked if he would be willing to host Republican political candidates at his cafe in York, South Carolina. "You know, Popes at the White House is probably a good lead-in for any candidate," he said. "Hopefully, it's a good start for them." Rick Santorum stopped by last Friday to give a speech and take a few audience questions on the back deck. "We're committed to coming down here and winning in South Carolina this week," said Santorum. The cafe was packed. Because it was a special occasion, Freddie Adams was wearing a collared button down instead of what he normally wears, a t-shirt. He was manning the register. Freddie Adams, who manned the register at Popes, decided on a dressier shirt for the special occasion. Photo: Tanner Latham "We've had people lined up outside the door," said Adams. "We've had people standing trying to eat. Ordering. Passing out teas. Then they finally get their order. Then we had to get more tea. It's different. Something a lot of people around here never experienced." Sales were up 25 percent compared with a normal Friday. But not every stop has been financially lucrative for these businesses. "It didn't really help or hurt one way or another," said Butch Bone, who owns Al's Restaurant down the state in North Augusta, South Carolina. Rick Perry stopped by there last week. "I mean, with that many people in here, you can't run a restaurant, because they're all standing on top of each other," said Bone. "Actually, my wait staff and my kitchen help was pretty much like everyone else. They just come in to listen to him talk." But Bone said that turning a profit wasn't the sole reason for hosting the event. He had been tracking Perry, and this gave him a chance to hear the candidate in person. "When he come in and give his speech on his political campaign, I was quite impressed with it," said Bone. He says there's a good possibility he'll vote for Perry in Saturday's primary. Which leads to another question: What about the politics involved in hosting a candidate? Jim Pope wasn't worried. We asked if he thought having Santorum here would alienate any of his regular customers. "I don't think so, because they know us, and we are honestly not the most politically correct group in the world," he said. Of course, he was joking, but he said he seriously didn't think there would be any problem. He posted the event on the restaurant's website and warned his regulars it would be more hectic than normal. And Jack Jones, owner of Fat Jack's Grillin' and Chillin' near Charleston, (which is arguably one of the most entertaining restaurant names in the state) echoed the sentiments of several owners who were interviewed. An event like this was bigger than a candidate or even political parties. Jim Pope opened his restaurant in York, South Carolina, two years ago. Photo: Tanner Latham "For any presidential candidate to come to a little small town like Walterboro, I think that wasYou know, the small town elects the president just like the large city does, and we've got the same problems here that the medium-sized, every city's got," said Jones. Through Friday, the candidates still in South Carolina have at least four stops scheduled at restaurants. And back in York, Jim Pope is on stand-by. We asked if he was waiting to hear from his brother Tommy if any other candidates will be coming through. "If you want another one, you crack the whip, we'll make the trip," said Pope. So far, no other candidates are scheduled to stump at Popes again this week. At least not yet.