It didn’t take long for the yard signs the county Democratic party put out in July urging a vote for Joe Biden, before he even had added the name Kamala Harris below his, to be decimated.
Other local candidates had their signs stolen too, but the numbers paled to the spree committed by a loyalist of Donald Trump against his challenger for the presidency of the republic.
More than 50 of the signs were stolen, a rebuke by civil disobedience protesters opposed to those who advocate putting an end, after just one term in office, to the occupancy of the White House by the man who two-thirds of the county voted for in 2016.
The county Democratic Party, led by Carol Barfield, decided not to accept the summer thievery without a fight.
The guidelines in place for social distancing put a damper on the party’s ability to do a traditional door-to-door campaign, and blanketing the county with more yard signs might invite further filching.
So, as the defiant underdog, working to squeeze out the votes of as many Democratic voters as they can in a rock-red region of a closely contested battleground state, the Dems took the high and mighty road, buying about $7,500 worth of billboards.
“That is part of our strategy of getting out the vote. Under CDC guidelines, this was the best way for us to go,” said Barfield. ”Over the summer we lost more than 50 signs. We kept losing money.”
For about $300 to design the billboard, and anywhere from $670 to $1,300 per month to rent each board, the Democrats made their buy, which was unveiled around Labor Day.
It didn’t take long.
Someone took a paintball gun and added a big splash of white to the red, white and blue of the billboard next to Lynn’s Quality Oysters. They also slapped a smaller Trump/Pence sign right in the center of it, a miniature mark dwarfed by the enormous lettering that no doubt got their red blood boiling.
And the Democrats, predictably, felt blue about it.
“We have to pinch our pennies, we can’t just go there and order signs,” said Barfield. “We don’t have any paid staff. We have to do what we need to do to turn out the vote.
“This is bullying tactics,” she said.
Barfield said Sheriff A.J. Smith sent Major Cliff Carroll to pay Barfield a visit and get a full report, and she said she received assurances that an investigation would be launched.
“They were going to do some fingerprinting, get better cameras and offer a reward,” Barfield said, noting that she was told some sort of malfunction had resulted in existing surveillance cameras failing to get usable images.
“They were going to get new cameras that would show better,” she said. “AJ Smith said he had signs that were destroyed as well.”
The sheriff, a Republican, issued a statement on his Facebook page, complete with a photo of the vandalism, promising to prosecute the culprits.
“The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office will protect the rights and freedom of all citizens of Franklin County. No matter your political situation or opinions, defacing the campaign signs of any candidate is a violation of the law,” read the statement.
“It is against the very grain of what we strive to protect in this country, our freedom. Please stop and think before destroying property that does not belong to you,” it read. “The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office does not care what the party affiliations may be, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
It would not have taken very long for an Inspector Clousseau to examine Facebook to get a pretty good clue as to who may have dunnit, given explicit paintball threats voiced within MAGA circles.
A week later, the original perpetrators, or perhaps copycat ballers, perhaps did even more damage, taking a serious grey chunk out of the BID and HAR in the giant names. Oyster Radio’s Michael Allen reported that Smith and his investigators said they believed this later damage came about due to strong winds.
Whether it was one crime or two, the vandals have yet to be apprehended and charged, and Barfield is doing two things about it.
She’s not chastising law enforcement or casting blame on anyone, yet. And she’s not backing down from the Democrats’ ad buy, which is to have eight billboards in Franklin County – three in Eastpoint, two in Apalachicola and one each in Carrabelle and on the St. George Island bridge.
The rental price of each one depends on the traffic that passes by beneath them,“West of Carrabelle to Panama City, they’re going to charge you more,” she said. “East of Eastpoint is less expensive.”
And, Barfield is quick to add, it’s not just the visual message the party is sending. It’s the belief that the Democratic ticket offers a better path for America.
“There’s a reason there’s 3,700 Democrats here, and more registered Democrats in this county,” she said. “We should be able to turn Franklin County blue. It’s time for all Democrats to go to polls and vote our party.
“Vice President Biden looks at America as a whole, but President Trump looks at America in parts,” Barfield said. “We are one whole nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
“The best is yet to come,” she said, referring to the party’s plans for the next seven weeks.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Biden billboard paintballers still at large