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The only Floridian to advise the vice president before the debates tells him, "You are my president."
By DEBORAH O'NEIL
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000
CLEARWATER -- Lifelong Democrat Joyce Martin wanted one last chance to see Vice President Al Gore, the man she'd so badly wanted to win the presidency.
So the 76-year-old Clearwater resident paid $155 to fly to Washington and attend a Gore holiday party at the vice president's residence Thursday night.
At the party, there were security checks. Then a 10-minute wait in line to greet the man who won that nation's popular vote by 337,576 but lost a cliffhanger in Florida that cost him the election.
At last, Martin, the only Floridian selected to advise Gore before the presidential debates, had her moment. He recognized her.
She whispered into his ear, "You are my president."
"I think he was a little surprised to see me from Florida," Martin said Monday, three days after returning from Washington. "I was unhappy to see him not in the mode that we wanted for him -- as a victor. However, I was proud of his dignity."
Few Floridians volunteered as much in Gore's candidacy as Martin. She first met Gore in September during a campaign stop in St. Petersburg. She was then selected to join a group of people from throughout the country to join him in Sarasota and advise him before the first presidential debate in Boston.
In the days to follow, Martin was interviewed by the New York Times, and a photo of her seated next to Gore appeared in Newsweek. In Boston, she and the other "real people" were guests of Sen. Ted Kennedy at a Boston restaurant.
At the debate Oct. 3, the group sat in the sixth row.
"It's the vice president; here you are talking to him, touching him, eating with him, laughing with him," Martin said. "That's as dramatic as my life will ever get."
When Martin returned home after Boston, she thought her foray in the national spotlight was over. Not so.
Martin visited a niece in Texas, and when she returned, the voice of a Gore campaign staffer was on her voice mail: Get ready for St. Louis. The vice president wanted more input from his "real people" before his third debate appearance Oct. 17.
"I unpacked and packed," Martin said.
The group presented Gore with a red T-shirt -- size XL. It read, "Real People for Gore Lieberman in 2000." Each signed the back of Gore's T-shirt. Martin wrote him a message that she'd earlier told him: I'm looking beyond November 7. I'm looking at January 20 (the date of the inauguration).
Through it all, Martin believed Gore would win.
"Up until the night before, until the court decision, I was really hoping the popular vote would give him the presidency," Martin said.
The party Thursday night was a lovely affair, Martin said. The vice president's home was decked out with holiday decor. Tables overflowed with finger sandwiches, miniature pizzas and canapes.
The invitation, which featured a snowy scene of the home, came with a personal touch. Her name was written inside in pencil.
Martin left an equally personal touch for Gore in a guest book at the party.
"I wrote the same thing," Martin said. " "Al Gore, you are my president.' "
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.