NEW PORT RICHEY — The line was long. It started in the office of the supervisor of elections at the West Pasco Government Center and took a sharp left into the hallway and stretched past the bathrooms and through the glass doors and out onto the concrete walkway and finally stopped by the hedges on the way to the parking lot.
Two weeks of early voting started last week. The lines were like this all over the country.
If Pasco County is representative of the nation as a whole — and people who study politics and demographics say that it is — it can then be said from talking to the folks in this line that Americans are antsy and anxious and excited and opinionated but not without hope.
Many of the people in the line talked about the war.
All of them talked about the economy.
And they wanted to vote.
They wanted to vote now.
Not. Soon. Enough.
"I'm just ready for this election to be over," said Suzanne Pruitt, 39, a homemaker from New Port Richey. "Let's get someone in there fresh. Let's move forward."
Said Susan Inge, 40, a homemaker from Odessa: "We need help."
Dave Martino was down the line a bit.
The 43-year-old lives in New Port Richey and works as a shift engineer at Tampa General Hospital.
He had never voted early before this year. He had never heard of early voting before this year.
But here he was.
"I'm just so disgusted," he said.
"If I could take my 10-year-old and my dog to vote, I would," said Sandra Quinlisk, 43, of New Port Richey, who works for the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
"This year is different."
Some pundits are calling this election the most important election in nearly a century. It could have the highest voter turnout ever. A record 213-million people are eligible to vote.
Early voting is available in 31 states. Turnout so far has been intense everywhere. Texas. Ohio. Utah and Arkansas. Georgia and Virginia. Nevada and New Mexico and North Carolina.
In 2000, the early turnout was 16 percent.
In 2004, it was 22 percent.
This year, according to the Associated Press, it's expected to be roughly a third.
In Florida, with its 27 critical electoral votes, the lines have been long in Miami, and Jacksonville, and around Tampa Bay, the populous bulb at one end of the state's key Interstate 4 corridor.
And in Pasco, at the libraries in Hudson, Holiday and Zephyrhills, and at the elections offices in Dade City, New Port Richey, Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel, more than 4,500 people voted last Monday. That was a new record.
More than 4,600 people voted on Tuesday. A new new record.
It didn't stop on Wednesday. The friendly man wearing a green ELECTION DEPUTY ball cap said he's been working the polls for 14 years, and never, ever had he seen anything like it. By the end of the day Friday, more than 23,000 people in Pasco had voted early. That number grew on Saturday.
Pasco elections supervisor Brian Corley and his staff were expecting high and even potentially record-breaking early turnouts. They weren't expecting quite … this.
This place is a battleground county within a battleground state. The population used to be people's grandparents from Michigan and New York and local-yokel country folks. So went the stereotype, and the stereotype persists, even though the stereotype just isn't true anymore.
Look at Census stats.
These days, Pasco is a place that might be particularly, poignantly American, with the high-cost, high-mileage commutes, the yawning strip malls, the unmowed yards of foreclosed homes. The people who used to live in the Northeast and now live in the Southeast. The people who used to live south of the border and now live north of the border.
The line here on Wednesday had in it people like Nick Sasso, 81, who lives in New Port Richey but came from New York, and Rosetta Harris, 69, who also lives in New Port Richey but came from Pennsylvania, and Liana Senk, too, a 19-year-old St. Petersburg College student from Port Richey, and her classmate Chrisoula Kostreles from New Port Richey.
The line was flip flops and work boots and suits and ties and Hawaiian shirts and Wranglers and suspenders and nurse scrubs and tank tops and dreadlocks and walking canes.
There was a white woman with a tattoo at the top of her back that said MISUNDERSTOOD.
There was a black man with a ball cap that said JESUS IS MY BOSS.
The people in the line said their minds were made up. Said they were made up a long while back. Now they were tired of the self-evidently staged political campaign game. Talk. Just talk. Please, no more talk.
"We need to be moving forward," said Jonathon Pritchard.
Pritchard, 38, of New Port Richey was in line to vote for two reasons, he said.
He had time.
He had time because he had no job.
He used to be a general manager of a yacht club. Got laid off three months ago. He's been looking ever since, and looking hard, he said, but there are so few positions that are open, and so many resumes for those that actually are.
Christina DeLeo was waiting in the back of the line. She's 23, a student at St. Petersburg College and a server and bartender at the Carrabba's on U.S. 19, and she had come to vote early on Monday. Now she was back on Wednesday with two friends. She said she was going to bring her father on Thursday.
"I don't like the way things are going," she said.
Daniel Corrao, 26, a tile installer from New Port Richey, showed up to vote.
"I've never voted before," he said.
But this time around? Too many issues in his mind and too few dollars in his pocket to sit this one out.
Fareed Zakaria had a story last week in Newsweek called "The Bright Side." He wrote that the current economic crisis has "forced the United States to confront the bad habits it has developed over the past few decades." He called it "the wakeup call from hell."
Here last week, and everywhere, it seemed, the people in the lines for early voting were angry, and they were scared, and they were impatient, and they were enough of all those things to be interested. To be invested. To be into this.
The line moved slowly.
But it did move.
Michael Kruse can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6244.
Early voters as of the end of the day Friday:
10,834 Democrats voted early
8,002 Republicans voted early
4,295 Other party members voted early