EASLEY, S.C.-- Make way for the Rick Perry Prowler!...oops, ...the Herman Cain Train!...um, er, maybe not...ok fine, the Newtmobile!
Meet Paul Hines, 55, (current) Newt Gingrich supporter and owner of one hot 1999 Plymouth Prowler. The red, white and blue car reads "Tea Party 2012" on the side panel and serves as a high-speed ad for Gingrich's campaign.
Yet the car hasn't always been full-speed for Gingrich. Perpetually let down by the Republican presidential contenders this cycle, Hines has spent nearly $8,000 retro-fitting the vehicle to promote his favorite Republican presidential candidate of the moment. First he blinged out the car for Perry. But after a string of disappointing debate performances from the erstwhile candidate, he gave Cain a spin.
"He flopped," Hines, a retiree from San Antonio, said of Perry. "After the third debate, it was just too embarrassing to drive the car."
He had barely thrown away the old Perry stickers before Cain's presidential aspirations were dashed by allegations of sexual misconduct. When Cain dropped his bid, Hines fled to Gingrich.
On the road, Hines travels with his landscaper, Ruben Sanchez, who drives a 4x4 pick-up truck that tows the Roadster during long stretches. The truck is Newtified, too, complete with a picture of Gingrich's head on the side windows and a "Newt Train"--originally a "Cain Train"-- painted on the front passenger door. (The lead engine on the train still brandishes "999.")
I first met Hines in the parking lot outside a townhall for Rick Santorum in Laurens, S.C. on Wednesday.
"You wanna ride to the next Gingrich event?" Hines asked when he saw me snapping photos of his prized roadster. How could I say decline? "You can just put your car on our trailer," he said. "Meet me in the alleyway behind the court house."
I pulled my rental car into the alley, where Sanchez was waiting with the truck and a trailer.
Sanchez knelt under the front of the car, but couldn't find a place to attach the chain to keep it from falling off.
"Should we just risk it?" I asked, suggesting we just plop it on the platform unattached and hope for the best.
"It's just a rental right?" Hines said. "Sure."
After some consideration, I turned down this offer.
"Let's just drive separately," I said.
Safely behind the wheel of my rental, Hines cruising in the convertible and Sanchez rumbling along in the truck, we made the 45-minute drive to see Gingrich and arrived with an hour to spare. Hines, sporting a black "Newt 2012" beanie and a pair of dark sunglasses, was immediately swarmed by people snapping photos of the him and the car.
As Hines stepped out of the car, I asked: "What happens if Gingrich doesn't get the nomination? Will you switch the car to Romney?"
He sighed, paused, and began counting the leftover candidates on the GOP slate.
"I guess I'd have to, wouldn't I?" he said.
"What about Obama?" I asked.
"Well," he said. "It has four O's on it. I call 'em tires."
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