America stands at a political crossroads as the Nov. 4 election looms. In Hernando County, the political crossroads, literally, are at the busy intersection of Cortez and Mariner boulevards. - For weeks now at the intersection, the Democratic and Republican parties have set up set up tents, hosted rallies and waved signs at passers-by and shoppers. - In previous election years, politicians have always waved signs, hoping to score a vote or two. But the frequency and fervor of the electioneering this year - several days a week and especially on weekends - is far beyond anything that has been done before, organizers say.
"This is the battleground,'' said John Druzbick, the Republican candidate in the District 3 County Commission race.
Standing on the northwest corner of the intersection waving his campaign sign Saturday morning, Druzbick wasn't sure whether the sign-waving would do any good, but he said the exposure has given lots of people the opportunity to stop and talk to him about his candidacy.
Like the national politicos, Hernando County's party leaders have been waging the same kind of battle in the parking lot between Carrabba's and Walgreens.
Jay Rowden, local head of the Democratic Party, said his folks had staked out their claim to real estate about 4:45 a.m. Saturday. The Republicans were there, too, getting ready to set up their materials.
Jockeying for the best turf has become a key part of each day's campaigning effort. For weeks now, the Democrats have been at the intersection. Then one weekend, the Republicans showed up with their materials and sign wavers. Why not? Druzbick said. It was a good way to get the message out.
On another weekend, local home builder and political activist Blaise Ingoglia showed up with his huge revolving-message truck, a billboard on wheels that some of the political activists now refer to as the "Blaise-mobile.''
To counter in their own small - very small - way, County Commission District 3 incumbent Diane Rowden parks her campaign-sign-wrapped Smart car nearby. Then she shows off her 80-pound poodle, Kirebo, first wearing a Rowden T-shirt, then an Obama one.
The conscious effort to out-position the competition has grown over the weeks.
In an Oct. 16 e-mail to fellow Republicans, the head of Hernando's Republican Party, Ana Trinque, urged people to turn out the following Saturday in the parking lot at Cortezand Mariner.
"We need a lot of volunteers for manning the tent area by Carrabba's and Walgreens ... this Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.," she wrote. "The Democrats hope to hold a huge Obama rally there Saturday. Let's spoil their day.''
Just like at the national level, the local party faithful are confident of their message.
Ingoglia, who is airing commercials urging people to vote out the incumbent county commissioners, said his motives are pure. "The bottom line is that we need to start looking out for the greater good,'' he said.
At the nearby Republican booth Saturday, where a "No Osama No Obama'' sign was prominently displayed, party supporters were thrilled to see motorists pulling up and asking for yard signs, T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons.
"It's so interesting to watch,'' said Clara Adkins, wife of District 1 County Commission candidate James Adkins, as a gray-haired couple approached the booth seeking information about the candidates.
Back in the other camp, Democratic precinct chairwoman Dianne Maughan was excited to have the chance to promote the idea of women supporting Barack Obama for president.
"I'm 65 years old, and he is the first candidate for president that I've really been passionate about,'' she said. "I believe in him.''
So did the next visitor to the booth.
Spring Hill resident Daisy Swackard was positively thrilled to pick up some Obama materials. She danced her way back to her vehicle chanting, "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma.''
It was music to the ears of at least one camp in the parking lot.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.