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Gunning for votes

By PHILIP EIL  |  October 10, 2013

Before long, though, it was time for the raffle back at the clubhouse. Standing at the front of the room with a microphone, Stephen Tetzner laid out the ground rules. For the bulk of the prizes — the New England Patriots tickets, the Mary Kay gift basket, the coffee shop gift certificates, the boxes of ammo, the fishing rods — he would simply call the winner’s name and, if they were in the room, they were free to walk up and collect their prize. For the three guns, however, there would be no names called, only ticket numbers. If the winner was in the room, they were welcome to let that be known — “that is your right,” he said. But they were not obligated to say anything.

He also reminded the crowd that the firearms were not actually present in the building, that the winner would have to fill out the appropriate paperwork, pass state and federal background checks, wait the required seven days, and then, if all of their paperwork cleared, collect their prize. If they didn’t pass one of the background checks, he said, they would be reimbursed for the cash value of the gun.

With that, he invited a couple of elementary school-aged girls to help him pluck paper ticket stubs out of a heaping plastic bin.

“Did I see you down there shooting a .22 today?” he said to a peanut-sized girl in a red hooded sweatshirt. She nodded. “Did you have fun? Atta girl.”

Since there were 3000 tickets sold, and only about 50 people gathered in the clubhouse, the much-anticipated raffle actually turned out to be a profound anti-climax. The overwhelming majority of the winners of RI GOP polo shirts, fluke-fishing outings, and oil changes were not in the room. Tetzner simply read their name, looked around the clubhouse, and handed the ticket to Costa to be filed. At one point there was a communal chuckle when Tetzner noticed someone had scrawled “Holiday Tree” on the envelope containing a voucher for a freshly-cut Christmas tree. At another point, he looked around and said incredulously, “Did you guys buy any tickets here?” A small group of reporters sat around the room in folding chairs looking somewhat dejected.

Finally, after about 15 minutes, a guy wearing a “GUN CONTROL DOES NOT WORK” pin on his shirt won a $25 gift certificate to Chelo’s. He raised his arm in the air in triumph. A few minutes later, someone else won a $500 gift certificate to D&L Shooting Supplies in Warwick.

When it finally came time for the “big stuff,” Tetzner read only numbers, as promised. First, for the Beretta pistol, came the number “1634.”

Silence.

Then, for the first Smith & Wesson rifle, it was “1791.”

Nothing.

Finally, for the second Smith & Wesson rifle — “the prize that everybody’s been waiting for,” as Tetzner said — the winning number was “2515.”

He repeated it: “Number 2515.”

Nobody jumped. Nobody whooped.

“OK, so that concludes the raffle. Thank you all very much for coming,” Tetzner said. He suggested folks could grab one final soda or burger before they hit the road.

After the event, the media coverage continued. On the Tuesday following the event, The Journal printed an editorial calling the raffle “freakishly insensitive” and “in such breathtakingly bad taste that it could have come from the satirical publication The Onion.

“You have to wonder if Rhode Island Republicans won’t be satisfied until the entire party can meet in a phone booth,” the article read.

Philip Eil can be reached at peil@phx.com. Follow him on Twitter @phileil.

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