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Keys more than jazzed about the presidential election

A garden of political signs along local roads shows grassroots campaigning spread to the Florida Keys like never before in the 2008 presidential election.

"In about a month, we've distributed more than 300 [McCain-Palin] signs from our campaign headquarters," said Nick Mulick, president of the Greater Keys Republican Club in the Upper Keys. "We've run out of signs and bumper stickers three times."

Business is equally brisk at the Upper Keys Democratic headquarters in Key Largo, said Pam Martin, Monroe County state committeewoman.

"People are coming in off the streets to volunteer," she said. "They want to be part of changing America and restoring it to sanity."

Six campaign offices, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, have opened in Monroe County -- which almost certainly is a local record -- say political activists.

The Upper Keys GOP had not opened a campaign headquarters for 12 years, Mulick said.

The three local Republican clubs representing the Upper, Middle and Lower Keys each have opened offices "with the assistance of the state party," Mulick said.

Democrats have two offices in Key West -- one for the local party and one specifically for the Barack Obama campaign -- and an office in Key Largo.

Maryon Gould, 83, joined the two dozen active volunteers at the Key Largo Democratic office -- her first foray into campaigning.

"The country needs change," she said. "If not, we may as well give up."

Don and Jean Crouch often volunteered in Michigan and continue to work for John McCain and the GOP in the Upper Keys. "We're pretty much veterans," Don said.

Republican volunteer Colleen Venezia keeps pulling signs in her own yard to donate them to backers with more visible yards.

"We feel so strongly about this very important election," she said. "We're passionate about Republican issues."

"We've been much more active in this national election, which will carry over to our local races," Mulick said. "We never anticipated this level of voter interest."

Workers stopped by the closed GOP office in Tavernier on Sunday to clean "and about 20 people walked in during the course of an hour," he said.

The office normally is staffed during lunch and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. "when people are most likely to come by."

Martin said the number of Democratic supporters also surprised party members.

"People are way more excited than they have been in the past," she said. "I've had people say they cutting short trips so they could be back in the Upper Keys to help us campaign over this final weekend."

Alejandro Miyar, a regional press officer for the Obama campaign, said Florida's reputation as a Republican stronghold is misleading since recent national elections have been fairly close.

"Our goal has been to reach out to every voter, from Key West to Key Largo, and all the way up to Pensacola," Miyar said. The campaign has an estimated 160,000 volunteers active in Florida, he said.

Monroe County has 50,149 voters registered for the current election. Of those, 18,956 (38 percent) are Republicans and 18,130 (36 percent) are Democrats.

The Keys have 10,883 declared independents, along with 2,180 people registered in other political parties.

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