With victories in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Sen. John Kerry continues to gain momentum in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. His Citrus County base of support also is active.
Since September 2003, a group of enthusiastic Kerry advocates has been meeting once a month and working hard to garner support throughout the county.
"Wear your buttons and get those bumper stickers on your cars," shouted Judy Groner, the organizer of the Kerry group, during a session this month.
In true democratic fashion, the Citrus County Kerry meetings provide each attendee with an opportunity to speak his mind. Groner holds a small foam ball and speaks, then tosses the ball to someone else at the meeting, which means he or she then can speak.
"Call friends who live in states with primaries before ours," Groner said at this meeting, held at the ABC Pizza in Crystal River. "We want to get the undecided voters."
The Kerry supporters are a diverse group of Citrus residents. They include 14 veterans, an 86-year-old breast cancer survivor, local schoolteachers, two citizens running for local offices and many others who desperately want a change from the current administration.
The Kerry supporters didn't have anything bad to say about the other Democratic candidates. They find unity in their support of Kerry and their opposition to President Bush.
"Everything that's come out of the Bush administration has worked to dismantle public education," said schoolteacher Chris Becker. "He's done it at the national level and his brother (Gov. Jeb Bush) is doing it at the state level. We need to get some people back in there who truly care about kids in our country and will provide us with the funding for the problems facing our teachers, administrators and kids."
"Bush and Kerry went to Yale at the same time," said Dan Groner, Judy's husband. "Bush got C's and Kerry got A's."
The ball was tossed to Mary Sherrill. "The first time I heard Kerry speak, he pointed out every fault Bush had, and he had it down pat," she said. "I've admired him and held on to him ever since."
"I feel he (Kerry) has integrity, that he's strong, and if anyone's going to beat Bush, it will be Kerry," said Felicia Kelly Smith. "I feel like he wants change in this country and that's what we need."
Walter Klavins added, "I like John Kerry because he's the most qualified. He has the military and foreign affairs background and he has charisma."
Throughout the meeting, the Citrus county supporters' optimistic outlook for a Kerry nomination could not be ignored.
Lenny Kaplan, who is running for County Commission, said, "We're going to support whichever Democrat gets the nomination, but we know it's going to be Kerry, so why worry?"
And with the ball tossed to him a second time, Klavins concluded: "President Kerry even sounds good."
For those interested: Kerry meetings are held at 6 p.m. the fourth Thursday of the month at ABC Pizza in Crystal River.
Florida holds its presidential primary on March 9. To participate, Citrus residents must be registered to vote by Feb. 9. You can pick up a voter registration application form from several places:
Supervisor of Elections Office locations in Inverness (120 N Apopka Ave.) or Crystal River (801 SE U.S. 19)
Driver's license offices
State agencies that provide public assistance
County government offices
To register to vote, you must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of the county in which you wish to vote and 18 years old. (You may preregister at age 17, but must be 18 to vote.) Convicted felons and anyone declared mentally incompetent with respect to voting may not register until their civil rights or competency have been restored. Questions? Call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 341-6740.