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Voters pack polls with vigor

Around the county, passionate crowds turn out for their local and national candidates and aren't shy about sharing their opinions.

By DAN DeWITT
Published November 3, 2004


BROOKSVILLE - Inside the Brooksville Pentecostal Church of God, a Republican poll watcher was ready to challenge any improper votes.

If voters thought this was unfair, they could appeal to a lawyer from the John Kerry campaign stationed outside the church, the Precinct 11 polling place.

Cruising the surrounding roads was a pink trolley staffed by a Kerry campaigner from Atlanta, who invited voters to come aboard with a made-up jingle he sang through a megaphone.

"Hey, hey, it's Election Day. Everybody get out to vote."

These were all indications of the energy the local and national parties had put into Tuesday's election, especially the presidential race. But just as impressive, and with far more impact on the results, was the determination of thousands of Hernando County residents to get out and vote.

Poll workers around the county said voters arrived early and in huge numbers. Most of these voters said they were interested in local races, but all had passionate opinions about either retaining President George W. Bush or tossing him out of office.

"Bush has to go," said Margaret Lane, 34, as she left the Pentecostal church. "I don't like American troops over in Iraq, and I don't like Americans getting killed."

Better in Iraq than in the United States was the standard reply from Bush supporters.

Harold Jones, who cast his vote at the Precinct 9 polling place, Spring Lake United Methodist Church, said he was interested in a president who would "fight terrorism offshore rather than having to do it over here."

He also said he supported efforts to ban gay marriages and wanted to "limit further efforts to control citizens' access to guns."

These have traditionally been Republican issues; growth management is usually associated with Democrats. But that issue determined his County Commission votes, said Jones, who is a member of the Hernando Alliance for Open Lands Conservation.

Other residents, such as Albert Cadwell of Brooksville, also said their position on national issues would not influence their vote in local races. He voted Republican for president and chose Democrat Eddie McConnell for sheriff.

Cadwell said he got to know McConnell over the years through civic forums in Brooksville and that both McConnell and Bush fit his ideals of personal responsibility.

"Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore," Cadwell said. "For example, if people vote, it's their responsibility to know how to vote."

Bobby Meadows of Brooksville wore an Eddie McConnell T-shirt and a blue ribbon that identified him as a "Republican for Eddie McConnell."

He supports Bush, he said, because, as a born-again Christian, Meadows agrees with the president on issues such as abortion. But he doesn't like the war in Iraq and, he said, "I don't think Bush is the answer."

The Supervisor of Elections Office said the county had seen a large increase in young voters like Michael Schuler, 18, who voted in Spring Lake. It was hard to say, though, from sampling their opinions, which candidate would benefit.

Schuler supported Bush, he said, because he thought the country should stick with the same leader during a time of war. Matt Saxon, who voted a few minutes earlier, said Bush "is an idiot. I don't like anything he's done."

Retirement-age residents have historically turned out in high numbers, and the situation was no different Tuesday at the High Point Community center, where voters were greeted by several candidate supporters, some of whom resorted to fanning their faces with campaign signs to ward off the afternoon heat.

For residents Ray and Betty Vanders, the election seemed dimmed by the fact that neither party put up a very credible presidential candidate.

"I say put them all in a bag, turn it upside down and see what falls out," said Betty Vanders with a smirk. "I've never seen two worse losers than those two."

Eunice Oatman, 86, said it's the "dirty stuff" in campaigns that upsets her the most.

"I was brought up to be an honest person," she said, adding that "Bush has sneaked things" during his term.

And she said she's worried about the current situation of the middle class and working people, as well as problems like hunger and homelessness.

"I'm concerned because I think there's a lot of things that need changing," Oatman said after voting at the Heather Community Center in Brooksville.

Viola Huber, 80, is old enough to remember previous tight elections. She said she's voted in every presidential election since she cast her first ballot in the close race between Thomas Dewey and Harry Truman.

"That was another strange one - they even had the papers printed up wrong," she said, citing the notoriously erroneous "Dewey defeats Truman" headline.

Despite the close race, Huber said she's hopeful that Florida will not relive the confusion around the 2000 election.

It didn't seem to be headed that way, at least locally. Jeffrey Pennett, the Republican poll watcher, said he was assigned to the heavily Democratic Precinct 11 "to maintain the Republican Party's integrity over there.

By the middle of the day, he had done little more than request that the clerk check on some voters who Pennett suspected might have already cast absentee ballots. They had not, he said.

And the clerks at most polling paces said the voting had proceeded smoothly, despite the crowds. And big crowds of voters, ultimately, make better decisions than small ones, Meadows said.

"Millions and millions of opinions are better than thousands and thousands. That's the way I think anyway."

Staff writers Logan Neill, Jennifer Liberto and Mary Spicuzza contributed to this report.