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Election 2004

Politics producing a partisan delirium

Violence, insomnia, obsession. Such are the hallmarks of this political season.

By TAMARA LUSH
Published October 30, 2004

A driver aimed his Cadillac at Rep. Katherine Harris in Sarasota to exercise his "political expression."

A Lake Worth man attacked his girlfriend after she told him she was leaving him - and voting for John Kerry.

Outside an early voting site in Miami, supporters of President Bush and Kerry clobbered each other with campaign signs.

Tensions are running particularly high in the final days before the 2004 election.

"I haven't seen the intensity of this election since Vietnam," said Los Angeles psychiatrist Robert R. Butterworth. "People are so polarized, people are so invested."

There are several factors unnerving Florida voters: The war in Iraq. A deadlocked presidential election. Nonstop television attack ads for candidates and constitutional amendments. Long lines for early voting, missing absentee ballots and uncertainty about how poll watchers may challenge the qualifications of some voters on Tuesday.

All of that comes on top of memories of 2000, when Florida endured a 36-day recount.

The Washington Post, arbiter of all things political, has even coined a phrase for the campaign stress: Pre-Election Anxiety Disorder, or PEAD.

"No one is talking about voter apathy anymore, because the opposite is more likely the case," wrote Joel Achenbach. "People care too much. They're losing sleep. They're having bad dreams about unfavorable tracking polls."

Lisa Brave said she feels "nauseous on a daily basis." The 42-year-old St. Petersburg woman stood in line at lunchtime Friday at the Supervisor of Elections Office in downtown St. Petersburg, waiting in line with 100 others to vote.

"I'm scared for what is going to happen to this country," said Brave, a mother of two young children.

"I'm worried that a lot of people my age won't vote," said John Terrana, a 21-year-old student.

"I'm worried that there is a lack of a paper trail," said Warren Denning, a 29-year-old salesman, referring to the touch-screen voting machines.

The three Democrats said the election has taken over their daily lives.

"I get up every morning and look at the polls on line," Terrana said.

"The Rasmussen Report?" Denning asked.

The others nodded.

"And electoral-vote.com," Terrana said.

In an earlier era, only pollsters, campaign aides and reporters would read such stuff. Now it's moms and students and salesmen.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Palm Beach, said voters are taking on the personality of the attack ads.

"The negativity has really gotten way out of control," he said. "And it's affecting the people. They're acting crazy, too. They're yelling at each other, they're pushing each other in line."

For those on election overload, Butterworth suggests turning off the television and ignoring the polls.

"You kind of have to go cold turkey with this," said Butterworth, a trauma counselor who has researched how politics affects mental health. "Take a political break. You have to unstress."

That's what Rose Clarke's husband has been telling her for days.

The 72-year-old Largo retiree and Kerry supporter wakes up every morning and asks her husband, Leonard, "Are we ahead?"

Then somebody stole her Kerry signs from her yard.

"I'm a staunch Democrat," she said. "It stresses me out why people are so silly, and why people would vote for the president."

The stress does not always extend to the political professionals who deal with this sort of thing for a living.

"The real stress that I'm feeling is the fact that I'm away from my wife," said Joseph Agostini, director of communications for the Republican Party in Florida. "But my level of stress is about the same as when I'm in Tallahassee - I love what I do, and I love my job and the role that I am playing in this political drama."

Butterworth said everyone needs to be more accommodating of differing political views, especially in workplaces and neighborhoods. He fears the loser's supporters will "crash and burn" on Nov. 3.

"If you're on the losing side, you're going to have to just kind of move on with your life," said Butterworth. "And if you're on the winning side, you're going to have to be magnanimous."

Of course, that assumes there will be a winner on Nov. 3 and everyone can relax. By one measure, the odds aren't good.

In Tallahassee, the list of media representatives requesting credentials for the election and any recount totals nearly 300 and includes reporters from England, Russia, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, Japan and China.

Times staff writers Lucy Morgan and Steve Bousquet and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Tamara Lush can be reached at 727-893-8612 or at lush@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 30, 2004, 06:00:21]


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