WINDERMERE, Fla.--Next time, Eddie Dillard won't wear flip-flops.
Dillard, a 29-year-old Ron Paul supporter from this suburb near Orlando, arrived to vote at his precinct at Winderemere Baptist Church early Tuesday morning. Pulling into the parking lot, Dillard noticed a man outside the polling place with a Gingrich sign. He decided to run home, slip into his "Ron Paul Rocks America" T-shirt, grab a "Ron Paul 2012" sign from his garage, and return to give his candidate some representation outside the precinct after he cast his vote.
Dillard found a quiet spot along a sidewalk lined with tiny American flags and held up his sign. Little did he know, Newt Gingrich had chosen that very spot to make his first Primary Day campaign stop.
When Gingrich's bus pulled up, Dillard stood silently holding his sign and watched the news-media horde swamp the candidate. Gingrich stepped down from the bus and made a beeline for Dillard. He stopped in front of Dillard and his sign and parked himself for a round of handshaking and pictures with voters. The placement couldn't have been worse. There was Gingrich, standing with his wife Callista at their first event of the day, and a giant Ron Paul sign floated inches from their crowns.
Noticing the awkward optics, Gingrich aides and security personnel swarmed Dillard, trying to intimidate him into moving. One of Gingrich's security agents stepped in front of him. When Dillard didn't budge, the agent lifted his heeled shoe over Dillard's bare foot and dug the back of it into his skin, twisting it side-to-side like he was stomping out a cigarette. Shocked, Dillard kept his ground and took a picture of the agent with his phone, which was quickly knocked out of his hand. Dillard slipped off his flip-flop to pick up the phone with his foot, and a Gingrich supporter kicked the sandal away.
"Don't kick me!" Dillard said to the man who knocked away his sandal. More members of Gingrich's security retinue approached, shoving their shoulders and chests in front of him.
"Just block him!" a Gingrich campaign aide said. "Everyone step on his toes!"
Gingrich supporters handed a "Newt 2012" yard sign up to the front to put in front of Dillard's Paul sign. The two signs, zipping back and forth inches from Gingrich's head, circled each other in the air like fighter jets in a dogfight.
When the candidate finished taking pictures with voters, furious Gingrich aides grilled Dillard.
"If we did this to you, you guys would be furious," said an aide before stomping back toward the bus. "They have no class. No class."
As Gingrich pulled away, Dillard looked down at his foot. With the adrenaline pumping, he hadn't noticed the pain, but now it was starting to sink in. A bruise was forming, and there was a cut mark where the security agent had dug in his heel.
"That was really something," Dillard said afterwards. "My heart's racing. Not what I expected to happen today."
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