Fervor, dignity meet at polls
After this fierce campaign season, people turned out in exceptional numbers, but with reserve and even reverence.
By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published November 3, 2004
They were miles away in ideology, but still on common ground.
Common, in that the two supporters of President Bush and the two supporters of John Kerry were campaigning just feet away from each other outside the Point O' Woods clubhouse on Tuesday.
They held signs and politely traded opinions as some of Citrus County's 90,780 registered voters strolled into Precinct 404 and cast ballots, signaling the end to what many call the most contentious election season - both on the national and local level - ever.
While election campaigns had engaged in mailbox and television warfare, bombarding voters with fliers and advertisements in the past week, Tuesday was peaceful, serene and orderly, with voters filing into precincts as if they were entering church.
Civility and quiet confidence in their respective candidates emanated from Kerry supporters Norman Patten and Tom Lovick and Bush backer Erica Garner, who was accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter, Melanie.
They all held signs making a last ditch effort to persuade voters outside the Gospel Island precinct.
As the sun rose over the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame in Citrus Hills on Tuesday, the fog lifted to reveal the "Vote here today" signs at the entrance. By 7 a.m., voters already had arrived, parking their cars on the grass along Citrus Hills Boulevard.
When the polls opened, voters strolled by people holding signs for candidates for sheriff, school superintendent and County Commission, and filed into the museum's front entrance. Standing amid the baseball memorabilia, they hit a traffic jam.
"It's tradition to vote today. It didn't feel right to vote early," said Christine Gray, 53, who works with her husband, Paul Conrad, 59, at an insurance company. "It's always been the first Tuesday in November."
Conrad added that early voting "is like having Thanksgiving on Tuesday."
But the couple - who moved to Citrus Hills from Boston in 1994 and voted for President Bush on Tuesday because they "know too much about Sen. John Kerry" - conceded that voters who cast their ballots before Tuesday should be thanked for lightening the load on Election Day.
"It was smooth," Gray said.
The candidates for Crystal River City Council were out in full force Tuesday outside City Hall on U.S. 19, hoisting campaign signs as if they were on a union picket line.
Like any other polling site, voters came for many different reasons.
Muriel Smith, 67, a former newspaper editor, came out to support President Bush, saying it wasn't wise to change a commander-in-chief in wartime. Her daughter, Tracie Smith Yeoman, is deployed with the Navy in the Persian Gulf. Tracie's husband, Chris, has already served several stints in the Middle East. The couple have a 5-year-old son, Angus.
Muriel Smith voted for council member Susan M. Kirk, newcomer John M. Kostelnick, and former city police Chief Jim Farley.
"They struck me as fairly honest," she said. "They all do their homework."
In a bright T-shirt, Rocky Hensley, husband of property appraiser candidate Melanie Hensley, drove to Sugarmill Woods Precinct 307 and brought signs to supporters. At the precinct entrance, the spouse of the opponent in the race, John Barnes, was greeting cars as they pulled in. Kitty Barnes held a sign for her husband and chatted with other campaign workers, now and then raising a hand for an enthusiastic wave.
Sugarmill Woods resident Mandy Bragdon had just voted in her first election. The 28-year-old hadn't paid much attention to politics before but said she felt that this year, the election was too important to sit out.
She cast her ballot for George Bush.
"I think he is a little bit more honest than Kerry," she said. Bragdon said she didn't believe in everything that Bush did or stood for but she worried that Kerry was "making promises he never could keep."
At the Crystal River National Guard Armory, Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said he had a good feeling about the outcome of the Tuesday polling.
Nearby, Crystal River resident Andrew Freund stood by the road holding a sign for Kerry and another noting that "Bush socks it to seniors."
He had shaken Kerry's hand on Sunday at a Tampa rally and wanted to show his support for the candidate and exercise his right to free speech this Election Day.
But at Jeanette's Little Restaurant across the county on U.S. 41 S, Timothy Scalzi wants four more years under Bush. He wore a political pin for the first time in his life Tuesday, backing Bush-Cheney, and posted a yard sign for the first time, as well.
"I will be voting for Bush," Scalzi said. "He more represents my beliefs on self-sufficiency."
But if the voter turnout is an indication, it's more politically active than it has been, according to those who have watched the voting lines swell and recede over the years.
Eugene Russo greeted every voter with a cheerful hello at the door of the Roller Barn in Inverness. He has done it for years, and his green hat carried a pin that commemorates each election he has worked.
"Been through three presidents," the retiree from New York said, pointing to three American flag pins.
Although he brought along a dog-eared Reader's Digest magazine, he slipped it behind the cushion of a white lawn chair next to the front door because he had no time to read.
"We've never had so many people," he said.
Down the road in Floral City, across from where sheriff's deputies were campaigning for Dawsy and property appraiser candidate John Barnes waved confidently to cars, George Sudheimer, manager of the Shamrock Inn said the day brought a more "upbeat feel" than usual.
For the past two weeks, he has witnessed partisan bickering at his bar and has refused to take sides. He's noticed that the crowd is split between Kerry and Bush and that the Democrats seem to make more noise than Republicans.
Since he is a bartender, he said, he does have to supply people who ask with advice.
"I know who's going to win," he tells them. "The person with the most votes."
Times staff writers Abbie VanSickle, Raghuram Vadarevu and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this story.