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Dinosaur signals Donkeys' new home

(ran PC edition)

Cars parked at 3275 Commercial Way on Friday afternoon had a clear party affiliation.

One sported a grinning donkey flag. Another had a bumper sticker that read: "He's Not My President."

Drivers of these autos were inside what is now headquarters of the county Democratic Party, which, unlike its Republican counterpart, has long been without a home of its own.

Don't worry about missing the Democrats' new command center as you drive past. Its 3,000 cavernous square feet once housed the Foxbower Wildlife Museum, which boasted a collection of 1,100 mounted animals when it closed in 1998.

Ring a bell?

Try this: Right out front, there is a pink dinosaur _ 22 feet tall and 58 feet long.

Local Democrats have begun to call it the donkeysaurus.

The space is being rented by the county's Democratic leadership. The monthly cost of the space, including rent and utilities, is about $1,500.

Donations from the faithful are being solicited to cover the cost of the headquarters, which will provide the county Democratic Women's Club, Democratic Black Caucus, the "D" Club of Timber Pines, the Democratic Club, the Donkey Express and the Democratic Executive Committee with a place to meet.

The former taxidermy museum was a wreck when Democratic leaders began work on it in December, said County Commissioner Diane Rowden.

"I had to really use my imagination," Rowden said. "It was pretty dingy."

Now it is clean, spacious and smells of fresh white paint.

In early March, Democrats hope to hold an official opening, perhaps with Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Graham or Bill Nelson.

All the work has not only made the place shine, but also helped energize area Democrats, party members said, who have witnessed factional fighting in the DEC during the last several years.

"It's really brought out this feeling of community among the Democrats," said Steve Zeledon, campaign chairman for the DEC.

Zeledon said the headquarters will serve as a "lighthouse" for area Democrats, liberal and conservative, drawing both camps in to help the party win elections. Plans call for computer and telephone banks to be set up for campaigns.

Much of the talk Friday was about ousting President George W. Bush, an unpopular guy at the headquarters.

"You've heard about Curious George," said Spring Hill resident Wayne Lee. "He's Incurious George."

Lee, who has helped fix up the headquarters, described himself as "a real dinosaur, a liberal Democrat." He had a little George Bush doll with him. The president had on a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and pants with flames coming off them.

County Republicans, who outnumber registered Democrats in Hernando 42,271 to 39,190, have their headquarters at 26 E Liberty St. in downtown Brooksville.

Republican Executive Committee chair Ana Trinque said the Democrats have been beset by internal disputes and that she hopes their new home helps them come together. But she said the effort is ultimately futile.

"I firmly believe Bush is going to get re-elected," Trinque said.

Barbershops and politics have long gone together, so it is perhaps appropriate that the Democratic headquarters shares its building with Elio's Barbershop.

Owner Elio Vasquez, an 80-year-old lifelong Democrat, has cut hair at the location for 25 years.

He said he prefers the Democrats over the taxidermy museum as a neighbor. The headquarters has helped business.

"It brings a lot of people around," Vasquez said. "There's more excitement."

In true bipartisan fashion, cutting hair with Vasquez on Friday was Bob Lilley, a 63-year-old Republican who has worked in the shop for four years.

Lilley said he foresees no troubles between himself and the gaggle of Democrats next door "as long as they have coffee and doughnuts."

This month, Elio's Barbershop welcomed new neighbors as local Democrats moved their headquarters to the site of the old Foxbower Wildlife Museum, below. Barbershop owner Elio Vasquez, 80, center, is a Democrat, though his co-worker Bob Lilley, 63, is a Republican. Still, both men say the Democrats have been good for business. "It brings a lot of people around," Vasquez said. "There's more excitement."

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