CINCINNATI (AP) — A room full of Republicans gathered in a key county in pivotal Ohio was asked about the GOP presidential race. What followed over the next hour was spirited and at times rancorous: raised voices, arguments, groans and other signs of division.
But there were also calls and pledges to put aside their differences by November's general election.
"Use this passion, use this anger — whatever emotion you might be feeling right now — to help get out the vote," urged Andrew Pappas, a suburban Anderson Township trustee serving as the session's moderator, or at times, ringmaster.
The diverse group of some 40 Republicans came out on a frigid mid-January day for an informal monthly meeting at Hamilton County Republican Party headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. The chairman, Alex Triantafilou, was at home sick, leaving Pappas in charge.
Hamilton has emerged as the biggest swing county in a state historically crucial to Republican presidential hopes. It was won twice by Democratic Barack Obama as he carried Ohio both elections, after Republican George W. Bush did the same thing twice.
"We've really felt like we're in the middle of it all nationally, with all the candidate visits and media attention," Triantafilou said by phone.
That's expected to pick up again soon, with Ohio's primary less than two months away. The local candidates, county party officials, precinct-level organizers, tea party activists and others were "not a scientific focus group. ... It is people who are committed," Triantafilou said.
No Republican contender appeared to have widespread support.
"But I'll support whoever is the nominee," said Jim Kiefer, a small-business owner. "I'll support anyone to get rid of Hillary (Clinton) in November."
There were repeated warnings that they must unite behind their nominee, to win the White House and to generate turnout for the rest of the ticket.
Supporters of businessman Donald Trump were skeptical.
"He is on the ballot as a Republican, and I'm a Republican," said Linda Caudill, county chairwoman for Trump. "It bothers me when some of the GOP are saying, 'I'm not going to vote for him if he's the nominee.' "
Trump supporter Derrick Taylor asked for a show of hands for the GOP front-runner. Three definite and one maybe, which he said was far below Trump's national support rate.
"So I'm speaking to a room full of establishmentarians," he proclaimed. "No insult to anyone, but you're in favor of the establishment."
That brought groans and shouts of protest.
Pappas jumped in: "I can't speak to the national establishment, but you're not talking to puppets of the national establishment here. What you're hearing here, what everyone has said here, is if that if Donald Trump comes out of the primaries as the nominee, we're going to work to elect Donald Trump. You should be happy with what you're hearing here!"
Several people liked Ben Carson, but with the retired neurosurgeon overtaken in most polls by maverick Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, they said they would be OK with him, too.
"I'm a strong supporter of Dr. Carson and Cruz, because we need to go in a more conservative direction," said Alan McIntyre, of Cincinnati.
Although he was just endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party, there was little support voiced for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Several said they see him as a good potential running mate.
As the discussion wound down, Pappas joked that the next time he got a text from Triantafilou about serving as moderator, he might ignore it.
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