See photos from the campaign trail past and present
By Tim Pallesen
The presidential candidates who created a stir in coastal south county this year are only the most recent to discover the political magic along State Road A1A.
Barack Obama stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan during a campaign stop in July.
Then opponent Mitt Romney checked into the oceanfront Delray Beach Marriott for the Oct. 22 presidential debate.
Romney actually reached the beach for a flag football game. He and his family found burgers along A1A.
But paradise has attracted others before them.
Gerald Ford endeared himself to coastal residents with five campaign stops between Manalapan and Highland Beach before the 1976 election.
George H.W. Bush rested in Gulf Stream after winning the 1988 presidential election. Delray Beach named George Bush Boulevard in his honor.
The political hoopla along the ocean last month was mostly Romney’s doing.
His choice to stay at a Marriott hotel was predictable. Romney made the hotel chain the semi-official innkeeper of his presidential campaign because of a longtime family friendship that started between his father, George Romney, and hotel founder J. Willard Marriott.
Romney checked into the oceanfront Marriott on the Saturday morning before the Monday night debate. That gave him the weekend to explore the oceanfront on foot and travel up and down A1A in his motorcade.
A1A was a more practical north-south route than west on busy Atlantic Avenue to I-95. The police motorcycles and black SUVs headed north Saturday afternoon to carry Romney to a fund-raiser in Palm Beach.
Jenna Walsh, a bride returning to the Marriott with her wedding party, will never forget when A1A was closed at Woolbright Road so the motorcade could pass.
But Walsh was no regular bride standing alongside the road in her wedding dress. Her family owns the local Marriott. So Romney later posed for a photo with her, her husband and parents back at the hotel.
Romney then walked out of the hotel to find the nearest oceanfront cuisine. The Republican presidential candidate chose the upscale fast-food chain BurgerFi across the street.
“He was very obliging and hospitable,” BurgerFi manager Scott Zuckerman said. “Employees had their pictures taken with him.”
Romney ordered a veggie burger without bread for himself and cheeseburgers, milkshakes and fries for his wife, Ann, son Craig and his family. His bill: $52.72.
Romney hit the beach after church Sunday morning wearing black shorts, a black Adidas T-shirt and gray sneakers for a flag football game between his staff and reporters covering his campaign.
“Figure out which of their players are best and take them out early. Don’t worry about injuries,” Romney joked with his staff before he tossed a coin that got lost in the sand. The game highlight came when Ann Romney threw a touchdown pass with Secret Service agents as her offensive line.
The frolic was cut short because a national poll released that day showed Romney and Obama in a dead heat going into the critical debate Monday night at Lynn University.
Obama passed on the oceanfront experience, checking into an inland Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. Romney left the beach to study his foreign policy.
But the fascination that presidents have shown for coastal south county has a long history that’s certain to continue.
President Warren Harding was the first to explore the area when he sailed down the Intracoastal Waterway aboard the presidential yacht Mayflower in 1923. Subsequent presidents did away with the presidential yacht, which was replaced by motorcades.
Palm Beach claimed John F. Kennedy during his presidency, and Richard Nixon enjoyed Key Biscayne.
But Briny Breezes will never forget when Gerald Ford stopped his motorcade to visit residents in 1976.
“The Briny people turned out in force because there are a lot of Michigan people in Briny,” recalled Rita Taylor, the Ocean Ridge clerk at the time. Giant banners welcomed Ford. People stood five deep along A1A.
“It rained something horrible that day,” Taylor said. “But the president rode up in his car, stood outside and presented his speech. It was quite an exciting time for all of us.”
Ford also thrilled coastal residents when he spoke at the Lantana bridge, the Ocean Ridge Town Hall, the Delray Beach municipal beach and the Seagate of Highland condo in Highland Beach while traveling down A1A.
Ocean Ridge police covered Briny Breezes, and Ford telephoned to thank Taylor afterward to help make his motorcade a success. “That really made it memorable for me,” she said.
Taylor also remembers when George Bush senior fished and body-surfed at the Gulf Stream home of William Farish after winning the 1988 presidential election.
“I remember Barbara Bush swimming in the ocean with the Secret Service in a small boat beside her,” Taylor said.
Bush golfed across A1A at the Gulf Stream Golf Club. A U.S. Customs speedboat took him to Jupiter Island to attend church with his mother during his four-day stay.
“I think President Bush clearly enjoyed himself,” said Gulf Stream Police Chief Garrett Ward, who was a patrol officer at the time. “The townspeople were very proud that he was staying in our town.”
A year later, the Gulf Stream Republican Club caused a stir when it paid $25,000 to rename Northeast Eighth Street as George Bush Boulevard. Merchants objected, but the name stuck.
State Road A1A has grown into even more of a political highway during the weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
Not only presidential candidates travel the road now.
State House candidate Tom Gustafson walked along A1A for his campaign last month. State Senate candidate Ellyn Bogdanoff rode a bicycle to greet coastal voters.
Bicycle and pedestrian visits by local candidates caused no problems for police along A1A. But the Romney motorcade that shut down Gulf Stream before and after the presidential debate was another story, according to Gulf Stream’s police chief.
“Thirty or so motorcycle escorts made for a major traffic disruption,” Ward said. “I don’t recall anything like that when President Bush was here. That visit wasn’t as excessive as what goes on today.”