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Big ticket polls' big draw

Many say the presidential election pulled them to the voting booth. Others say the issues are most important.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


Hernando County voters had several high-profile local elections to decide Tuesday, including three county commissioners, the sheriff and a state representative.

Yet it was the top of the ticket -- Al Gore vs. George W. Bush -- that proved the biggest draw.

"I just can't get into local politics," said Pam Olsen of Masaryktown, whose concerns for education, the environment and campaign-finance reform brought her to the polls.

Although most people said they would have voted anyway, the national focus on Florida and its 25 electoral votes only heightened the importance of each ballot cast, said Sam Dampman of Ridge Manor.

"That's why I'm out here voting, because it's not a given," said Dampman, 65, a self-professed ultraconservative.

His vote was driven by the candidates' foreign-policy positions, and he said Bush was the closest thing to a conservative. Other voters were prompted by various issues.

Sophia Dickhut, 87, didn't mince words about why she came to the polls at Grace Presbyterian Church in Spring Hill.

"To get Bush out," she said. "He's too smirky. And he's stupid, for No. 2."

Dolores Davis, 72, of Spring Hill was keenly interested in the presidential race. And as someone who hadn't made up her mind until the last minute, she represented the key demographic -- undecided seniors -- that kept the presidential candidates in Florida for the past two months.

"I really questioned both of them," Davis said. "I think Al Gore has been in Washington for quite a while and he knows how things are run. I liked Al Gore because he was more qualified."

But Davis was up on the other races, too. She is friends with Sheriff Tom Mylander and likes his hand-picked successor, Richard Nugent. She liked Gail Coleman in the School Board race because of her experience as a teacher.

The local races were the main draw for some other voters.

The Rev. Dale Strange, minister of Cornerstone Christian Church in Brooksville, said Annie Williams deserved to win the supervisor of elections race because she has spent more than two decades working in that office.

"I feel like she has the experience needed to do the job," he said.

He said he supported Democratic candidate James "Eddie" McConnell for sheriff.

Jan Gathje of Masaryktown said she backed Williams for supervisor of elections and Juanita Sikes for tax collector.

Her 22-year-old daughter, Jenna, meanwhile, voted only for president. She opposed Bush's proposal to allow younger Americans to invest part of their Social Security taxes.

"I can't see 18-year-olds doing it," she said. "You wouldn't give everything you own to an 18-year-old."

Other issues also influenced votes.

At the Hernando County Fairgrounds, Cecelia Goodwin said she voted for Bush because he opposes abortion.

"I think he is brave to take that stance. No matter what else happened, that was the single issue that mattered most to me," she said. "I could not vote a murderer into office."

Robert and Betty Weber also made their presidential choice based on one issue, Social Security reform. They voted for Gore.

"(Bush) would take so much money out of Social Security that he'd break it," said Robert Weber, 82. "We can't afford to give that money to the young people."

Some voters held their noses and took a stab at the races.

"I would've liked to vote none of the above," said Art Kelland, 78, of Timber Pines.

Kelland and his wife, Marie, 80, are registered Republicans but chose Gore for president. "We have to do something about the national debt, not cut taxes," Kelland said. "The money's not there and it's not going to be there."

The presidential race also was the main draw in two Brooksville precincts.

"I wanted to vote for Ralph Nader," said John Ellery, 61, who voted in Clover Leaf Farms subdivision. Most of the voters there are white, and at or near retirement age.

The voters in Precinct 11, in southern Brooksville, are of all ages. And many of the black voters in the racially mixed precinct said they supported Gore, who supports affirmative action.

Gina Hall, a 35-year-old teacher, said she recently had heard a radio address from Kweisi Mfume, the president and CEO of the NAACP. He said this election was crucial for the future of black Americans.

"I think African-American people have to come out and vote for their dignity," Hall said.

For others, the myriad issues on Tuesday's ballot proved too much.

Eighteen-year-old Carey Wick of Spring Hill said media coverage of the political scene left her feeling daunted. She did not vote.

"I don't pay that much attention to it," said Wick, a cosmetology student at Pasco-Hernando Community College. "It's all just so confusing to me."

- Staff writers Joy Davis-Platt, Robert King, Jennifer Farrell, Dan DeWitt and Jamie Malernee contributed to this story.

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