Local presidential campaign volunteers are ramping up support

BROOKSVILLE

Debbie Satter scanned her list and punched in a phone number.

"We're just calling to see if Mitt can count on your vote," Satter said, then listened for a moment. "Wonderful! Make sure you send in that ballot. We appreciate your support. Go Mitt!"

As Satter worked the phone, a couple of other volunteers filed out of the Romney Victory Office on Landover Boulevard for a door-knocking spree.

A similar scene is playing out 4 miles to the north, where President Barack Obama's camp is set up between a title company and a clothing boutique in a Mariner Boulevard shopping plaza.

With early voting just days away, both campaigns are ramping up efforts in Hernando County, dialing phones and punching doorbells in a frenzied homestretch effort. By now, relatively few minds are left unmade, so the mission for both sides has shifted.

"G-O-T-V," is how 63-year-old Obama volunteer Carole Smith puts it. "Get out the vote."

That's going to be key if the president hopes to win Hernando, a county where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 4,000, and many of the 29,000 no party voters lean toward the GOP.

Turnout was a big factor in 2008, when Obama lost to John McCain by more than 3,100 votes. Of the 10 precincts with the lowest turnout in the county that year, eight had a majority of registered Democrats.

So-called neighborhood team leaders like Smith are seeking to improve that statistic this time around.

The Obama strategy hinges on the team leaders, who organize informal satellite offices in their own neighborhoods.

Smith, a 63-year-old retired Verizon clerk, offered her home for volunteers to make phone calls and launch canvassing efforts in heavily Democratic precincts like south Brooksville. During phone bank sessions, volunteers call voters from Smith's living room or lanai.

Smith said she's motivated to give the president time to continue his agenda as an alternative to a Republican Party that has offered few solutions.

"It's so important to stay on track," she said. "The Republicans don't have anything."

Carol Nugue, a 64-year-old retired supervisor for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, offered her home in Seven Hills as a staging area and phone bank.

"It's an incredible feeling, what we're doing, and I'm sorry I didn't do it four years ago," Nugue said.

Isa Simmons, 20, of Spring Hill, said he is inspired to be active, just as Obama was as a younger man.

"I see myself in him," Simmons said.

Simmons, who is currently looking for work, also wants to see the Affordable Care Act — what even the president now calls Obamacare — remain intact. Simmons suffers from Crohn's disease, so the provision that allows children to stay on their parents' health insurance policy is a big help.

The Romney campaign is leasing space in the headquarters of Hernando Republican Executive Committee Chairman Blaise Ingoglia's homebuilding business.

More than 220 volunteers have signed up to help since July, said field director Chris Steinke, They've knocked on about 20,000 doors in Hernando County, logged thousands of calls to voters in Florida, and distributed more than 3,500 signs, Steinke said.

On the weekdays, retirees make up most of the force. The numbers swell on the weekends with 9-to-5ers and college students.

Some people show up nearly every day.

"The intensity and enthusiasm of the volunteers has definitely picked up," Steinke said.

Satter is a regular, volunteering a few hours every day. The Spring Hill resident showed up Wednesday — her 58th birthday — to make calls.

"I think this is the most important election of our time, and I'm hearing this constantly on the phone," she said.

The media isn't fairly and fully reporting on the Romney ticket's stances and plans, Satter said.

On a nearby white board are some talking points and statistics for volunteers to offer people on the other end of line: the number of food stamp recipients is increasing along with the nation's debt, the board states, as the median income falls.

"A lot of times we're the only ones who can get to the people to report the other side," Satter said.

Next to the white board, someone taped an editorial cartoon featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. "Don't tell Big Bird," Bert says, "but I'm actually thinking about voting for Mitt Romney."

Al Beamud, 66, spends so much time at the office that his wife tells him he might have to set up a bed there.

The retired New York City transit authority worker spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy and worries about cuts to the military and the deficit.

"I was a union man for 44 years. Back then it was a necessary evil," he said. "Now they're bankrupting this country."

Volunteers at both offices agreed on at least one thing: The rewards from getting involved transcend politics.

"You open your eyes to your community," Simmons said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431.

. To learn more

Presidential campaign offices

Obama for America

5170 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill

Call: Nicole Uva, (727) 421-4342

Romney/Ryan Victory Office

2939 Landover Blvd., Spring Hill

Call: (352) 796-4741

Local presidential campaign volunteers are ramping up support 10/26/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 3:43pm]

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