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By COLETTE BANCROFT
Published November 4, 2004
At the Fowler house in St. Petersburg, watching election returns meant all Fox, all the time. In the family room, in front of a well-worn, black leather sectional big enough for two parents, three kids, a grandmother, a dog and two cats, the big-screen television was tuned in to Brit Hume and crew by 6:30 Tuesday night.
Bush-Cheney signs flank the Fowler driveway. Bill, 51, and his wife, Alina, 39, stood in line for several hours to vote early for Bush. The task had a red-alert urgency. "I didn't want to wait for Election Day in case there was a terrorist threat and they canceled the election," Bill said.
Not that they agree with the president on everything. Bill said, "I voted for Bush, but I'm very deeply troubled by the embargo" on Cuba that Bush tightened this year. "People in our family are going to be mentally, physically and financially hurt by it."
Bill moved to Florida from Maryland in the 1970s. Alina came here from Cuba in 1969 with her mother, Maria Castro, who lives with the family.
Bill, a self-employed plumber and home repairman, and Alina, a hairdresser, have been married for 20 years. They've made many trips to Cuba to take medicine and other goods to family members who live there.
"I have aunts, uncles, cousins, and I can't go visit them anymore," Alina said.
One of her cousins is about to have a baby; two are diabetic and running out of medical supplies. "When you get that call and have to say, "I can't do anything,' it's terrible," Bill said.
"But you can't decide how you're going to vote for the president on one issue. You have to choose the one you think will be a strong leader."
The Fowlers have three children. Twins Billy and Havana, 7, didn't pay much attention to returns and went to bed before Pennsylvania went for Kerry.
But Brittany, 14, spent the evening with one eye on the TV screen and the other on her laptop, clicking from returns on CNN.com to messages from friends.
The St. Petersburg High School freshman, who is in the demanding International Baccalaureate program, said she's more interested in politics than most of her peers. "They say, "It doesn't involve me.' It involves everybody."
She gets her news from Fox, newspapers and the Internet. "I like Bush's site. I read the blog, the stuff they have there about Kerry, the discrepancies and things. The more I hear about Kerry, the shadier he looks."
When Alina said, "I don't think Bush has been mudslinging in the campaign," Brittany said, "Oh, no, I think they both have."
Alina shrugged. "That's what the American people like, that fighting, like the reality TV shows."
Bill has been disgusted, he said, by the tone of the Senate race between Betty Castor and Mel Martinez. "They ought to disqualify both of them for the way they've run those campaigns."
He likes Bush's directness and folksy quality, he said. He thinks the president is strong on terror, and Osama bin Laden's continued freedom doesn't bother him.
"It took them 20 years to find the Unabomber, and he lived here. How can you expect them to find one guy in a cave somewhere?"
Kerry, he said, promises much. "He says he's going to give everybody health care, bring in drugs from Canada. But who's going to pay for it? It comes out of our pockets."
When Brittany called out a new electoral vote total from the CNN site, Bill said, "Don't pay any attention to that. CNN wouldn't give Bush the benefit of the doubt on a dare. They hate him.
"I watch Fox News," he said. "People say they're not fair and balanced, but every time they have a Democrat on, they have a Republican on with them, and the other way around."
But around 9 p.m., when anchor Hume said of exit polls showing a possible Kerry victory in one state, "We're hoping the exit poll won't be right, because we need that state," no one turned a hair about his partisanship.
Alina's mother, a neat, tiny 81-year-old, watched returns in another room on Univision. Her English is good, but she prefers the Spanish-language broadcast. When she came into the family room at about 9 p.m., Bill asked, "What are they saying, Mom?"
"Bush!" she said with a grin.
Bill and Alina spent part of the evening on the phone. Alina chatted with relatives in Miami, some of whom had voted for the first time. "When Melissa went to the polls, they videoed her," she told Brittany.
Bill told a friend, "Yeah, didn't you hear? John Edwards had a terrible accident with a blow dryer."
He wasn't surprised when North Carolina went into the Bush column. "Edwards sued so many doctors that for a while women had to go out of state to get their babies delivered," he said.
Late in the evening, Bill switched to another channel for an update on local races. He generally takes the Republican view that taxes should be kept low, but with three kids in Pinellas schools, he was hopeful the school funding issue would pass. "Brittany," he called, "they passed that school tax. Now maybe you can get some better teachers next year."
They watched the electoral vote tally, but without much tension. "I don't think we're going to know anything until tomorrow," Alina said.
Bill seemed more emotional about the numbers on Sen. Tom Daschle. "I can't stand that guy."
But he also worried about the Republicans' apparent overall gain in the Senate. "The Republicans are going to have too much power. I hope they don't abuse it. You have to have some balance."
Castro clicked off Univision and turned in just before midnight. So did Brittany. "I have to be up at 5." She carried her laptop off to her bedroom, cradling it like a kitten.
On the screen, Fox called Ohio for Bush a little after midnight, with almost a million votes left to count, and projected that he had 269 electoral votes. Even when his lead in Ohio shrank by 30,000 votes in 10 minutes, the network didn't waver.
Neither did the Fowlers. They turned off the TV at 12:50. "I'm going to be an optimist," Bill said. "Bush got it. I can't tell you how much I've prayed for this."
- Colette Bancroft can be reached at 727 893-8435 or email@example.com
[Last modified November 3, 2004, 17:17:12]