NEW PORT RICHEY — Bruce Diperi, a 38-year-old mechanic from New Port Richey, came because he wanted to learn more. Mary Karnstedt, "a Republican Wal-Mart associate for Obama," came because she hasn't been this worked up in decades. And Curtis Melvin came because he wanted the world to know his message: VOTE MCCAIN NOT HUSSEIN.
Thousands of people filled Sims Park and its outskirts Monday evening in anticipation of a visit by Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden. About 7:10 p.m., Biden's black tour bus pulled up behind the stage.
On a windy evening that caused Mayor Scott McPherson to take three copies of his own speech in case the original blew away, everybody had his own reason for standing in line.
"I wanted to get a chance and hear what both sides said," said Diperi, a 38-year-old mechanic from New Port Richey. "I've been listening to it all. ... Before I make my decision, I want to make sure it's the right one. I hear the word change, change, change. We'll see."
Biden's appearance marked the first Pasco visit by a major Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter came three decades ago.
Party volunteers, armed with brochures, tried to take advantage of a captive audience. "Did you know 750,000 people lost their jobs last year?" one volunteer asked Cynthia Contreras.
Contreras smiled and looked off in the distance. She is an undecided voter and had come only to listen.
Karnstedt held her homemade sign in front of her chest as she inched through the line.
Written on a manila folder, it said "I'm a Republican Wal-Mart associate for Obama."
Karnstedt, 60, who lives in the Moon Lake area of New Port Richey, said she heard at work about Wal-Mart management telling employees about the "consequences of having a Democratic president," and she sprang into action.
"I haven't been this worked up about an election since Kennedy," she said. She was 15 at the time.
She called Obama intelligent, well-spoken and honest.
"He seems so sincere," said Karnstedt, a retired teacher. "When you listen to him speak, it's like he's sitting there talking to you one on one."
Jessica Demick, a 20-year-old first-time voter and pharmacy technician at Target, said Obama's tax plan would help her, a single mother, much more than McCain's, which she described as "tax breaks for CEOs."
"I seriously don't know what I'd do if he won," she said of McCain, as she pushed her stroller forward in line. "It would be a tragedy if he wins."
Meanwhile, over on Main Street, Pasco County Republican chairman Bill Bunting was wearing a navy T-shirt with a picture of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin shooting a gun. The slogan: Bring It On.
"This is a shirt that represents America," he said.
Curtis Melvin, 17, New Port Richey, held a sign that said VOTE MCCAIN NOT HUSSEIN and yelled at cars going by: "Vote McCain. Say no to socialism! Keep America American!"
He was drinking PowerAde and his voice was still going hoarse.
A black Chevy Silverado pickup drove by and slowed, and the window came down a crack on the passenger side, and a boy's face stuck out long enough for him to say, very calmly, to the McCain sign-holders: "Obama, Obama, Obama."
Back at Sims Park, first-time voter Kathy Perez, a 29-year-old McDonald's manager, said she was moved to vote because of the economy.
She has three young children, ages 2, 6, 9, all of whom were captivated Monday by a man selling buttons. "Want a button?" he said, which she thought about as she was pushed forward in line.
Then the button man took off like a Pied Piper, the children following. "Wait for Mommy!" she called out as a woman with Obama bumper stickers followed. The bumper sticker lady handed Perez a bumper sticker but wondered: Could she spare a $2 donation?
Perez, keeping an eye on her kids rushing forward, pulled a wad of dollar bills out of her pocket and handed over $2.