DADE CITY — Christy McLaughlin didn't know how much enthusiasm there would be for her cause in conservative east Pasco. But she was sure the sign in her storefront window would generate a response:
Things were slow when she first opened the volunteer office in mid May. But as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for president, things took off: The office has registered about 40 voters and attracted more than 75 volunteers.
"I think there are a lot of artists that kind of lay low in this community, a lot of people that work from home, creative types. They're coming out of the woodwork," said McLaughlin, the lead volunteer. "I don't really know the whole makeup of the town, but we've sure seen a lot of traffic and enthusiasm."
There has been only one unenthusiastic response: An anonymous caller left a message at Barfield Insurance, promising to boycott the business because of the Obama office next door.
"You should know," the caller said, "this is Republican country, fool."
In fact, Barfield is just a neighbor, not the landlord.
A grass roots effort
The office at 14106 Seventh St. is the effort of local volunteers who set up shop well before Obama locked up the nomination. The studio-sized space is not being run by his campaign, but organizers followed all the guidelines and will soon receive supplies and direction from the Obama team, McLaughlin said.
Pasco County — east Pasco especially — has never been a very strong magnet for presidential candidates. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan made stops in west Pasco as candidates. But the last president to pound any pavement in east Pasco may have been Calvin Coolidge, who ate lunch at the Gray Moss Inn on Church Avenue in 1929.
McLaughlin, 57, decided to try to open the office a few months ago. She had been laid off from teaching at Saint Leo University and was having little success with the resumes she sent out.
Never a political junkie before, McLaughlin felt differently about Obama.
"I can get really fired up about this guy," she said.
McLaughlin approached the building owner about the vacant storefront at Seventh Street and Church Avenue, and he agreed to rent it for free as an in-kind donation.
Along the way, other supporters chipped in to cover nearly everything, from utility fees to the coffeemaker.
Diane Parker, a Zephyrhills resident and zealous Pasco Democrat, paid to turn the water on, then came and scrubbed the bathroom.
A few days ago, she was on the phone with city officials talking about plans for a kickoff party and local candidate forum next month.
"I just want to devote as much time as I can," said Parker, 67, who attended the 2004 Democratic National Convention when Obama gave the speech that elevated him to national prominence.
McLaughlin said they're holding training every Saturday for the 75 volunteers. Soon they'll have marching orders from the Obama campaign folks who are coming to Florida to map out strategy for November's election against Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Bill Bunting, Pasco's GOP chairman, said no McCain offices have opened in the county yet, but plans are in the works for locations in New Port Richey, Wesley Chapel and Dade City.
Alison Morano, Pasco's Democratic party chairwoman, said she doesn't worry that an Obama office in "Republican country" will backfire by energizing GOP voters — because they're potential Obama supporters.
"The Republicans want change too," Morano said, "and Obama's the only candidate offering that."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.