Volunteers for McCain, Obama do anything to help

LUTZ — Volunteers cranked out calls to voters, creating a clatter as two men pounded together yard signs. Dial after dial, they bore witness to the truth and consequences on the issues of our day to help John McCain win the presidency. National security. Health care. Taxes for somebody called Joe the Plumber. Or the pressing issue for one wildcard voter: "He wanted to know our position on public nudity," said McCain volunteer Georgina Giallanza, holding a cell phone provided at the Florida Republican Party's "Victory" office for John McCain.

Eyes widened. What to say?

Liberties are important, offered state committeewoman Lona O'Reilly, but the caller's suggestion to set aside national park land for public nudity might not be right, given the economy.

Ultimately, they referred the man — a resident of one of Pasco's trademark nudist communities — to johnmccain.com.

Not that public nudity is a campaign plank.

The giggles over the unusual call had to end quickly, however. There was work to be done here — and in the six other Republican and Democratic offices in Pasco that have come to life in anticipation of Election Day on Nov. 4.

• • •

Volunteers for both parties have made thousands of calls to voters in Pasco. Some Republican volunteers say they've personally rung up a thousand people. Thousands more calls are expected.

Everybody knows Florida is important to winning the White House. And historically, Pasco is a bellwether for the Florida vote, even if Hillsborough and Pinellas counties receive more attention in swing-vote rich Tampa Bay.

Since 1990, Pasco had nailed the winner in dozens of statewide races all but three times — often within a few points. And it's historically the first county to report results. Democrats even like to think Pasco got it right in the 2000 election, when Al Gore narrowly carried Pasco as George W. Bush won Florida in the recount.

But President Bush easily won the county in 2004 as a suburban boom created a Republican bloc in central Pasco. Hence, the Lutz office on State Road 54 west of Interstate 75.

Volunteers there reach an average 5,000 voters a week, including up to 2,500 on Saturday, said central Pasco coordinator Fred Manno of Land O'Lakes. While both campaigns are loath to give details, Manno said the location shoulders a big part of the workload in Pasco for the GOP.

"Pasco is one of the few counties in the state to have consistently met or exceeded goals set … for weekly phone calls," Pasco Republican Party Chairman Bill Bunting said in the county party's newsletter Sept. 22, offering both assurance to locals and an indicator of McCain's slide against Barack Obama in Florida polls.

• • •

The Lutz office is no place for the nonbeliever. A future under Obama is a bad thing here, bringing on socialism and other ills. Not that the national media has done its job clearing that up. As usual.

"There's a lot of questions about Obama," said volunteer Terry Ahearn, 48, of Land O'Lakes, who comes equipped with the answers: a laptop full of McCain policy statements.

But there's no lack of wit, either.

Another GOP office borrows Obama's catch phrase — Change You Can Believe In — and puts it over a picture of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin firing a gun. A Democratic Party office in Trinity put a fake newspaper page on the bulletin board.

Headline: BULLWINKLE ASSASSINATED.

Culprit: Palin.

In another corner, a near life-size Obama cutout waits for picture-taking at the Pasco Democratic Party's headquarters, a bungalow-style former sales office in Longleaf. It doesn't seem to matter to a man with two girls that Obama's face was imposed on the body of another man with hands too large, clutching glasses Obama doesn't wear.

That enthusiasm helps explain how Democrats regained steam here this year. Through registration efforts, they reduced the Republican advantage in Pasco by 1,700 registered voters.

• • •

Unlike John Kerry's bid in 2004, Obama's campaign set up a field office in Pasco County.

Off Grand Boulevard in New Port Richey's New Porter Plaza, more than a dozen volunteers punched out calls using cell phones. A field operative toiled on a laptop on the VoteBuilder computer program, which organizes information about supporters.

Democrats say voters tell them the economic crisis has swamped other issues as voters' top priority. Obama's gifted speaking style doesn't hurt, a point even Republicans acknowledge.

"I think he is charismatic, so I think he has a better chance," said Democratic volunteer Ivonne Cervoni, 50, of New Port Richey.

While most volunteers admit Obama winning Pasco appears iffy — too many older and conservative voters to overcome — they liked their chances at taking Florida.

"If I can just get one person to support him, I've done my job," said Jayne Manley, 58, an independent from Port Richey.

• • •

The sentiment in the Obama office was a world apart from the sentiment just three-quarters of a mile north on Grand Boulevard the same night.

Inside that Republican "Victory" office, another 20 volunteers "chased" mostly Republicans and independents by calling those who had requested mail ballots.

The marker board reported they reached 112 percent of their calling goal two weeks ago. On Tuesday, it said 90 percent.

But this wasn't any ordinary phone bank. It had computerized phones so volunteers could punch in codes for voters' answers to reach a database tracking progress.

"This is our date night," joked Beth Sylvester as she and her husband, Lee, phoned voters.

Here, volunteers like the Sylvesters were anxious over the economy and Democrats' attempts to link McCain to ills associated with the Bush administration. They wanted McCain to attack harder while he still has time. They believed in him — the message just has to get out.

So Derisa Tuttle, 30, plugged away at reaching voters.

A black woman, she said her friends ask why she's not supporting Obama, who is black. But she said national security and experience trumped sticking with her Democratic roots, enough that her daughter Hannah, 13, made calls, too.

"I think McCain is fighting for what I believe in," she said.

Moments later, Hannah yelled: "I got one for McCain!"

Heads turned and smiled, but just for second.

Calls awaited.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

Volunteers for McCain, Obama do anything to help 10/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 2:34pm]

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