The Villages Sumter County Service Center was a high traffic area Monday morning as U.S. Rep. Val Demings helped lead a golf cart caravan there — one filled with people eager to return their mail-in ballots.
The caravan, which was the result of a collaboration between The Villages’ Democratic and Democratic Women’s clubs, as well as the Sumter County Democratic Party, began at Eisenhower Recreation. The arrival of Demings, the Democratic senatorial candidate, on Monday was part of what’s already been a busy week for politics in The Villages.
Before the caravan left Eisenhower, Demings spoke to the crowd about topics such as gun violence and women’s rights. However, one of the main things she talked about was senior issues.
“Let’s take some moments to talk about what is on the ballot,” Demings said. “Health care is on the ballot. Do you believe that every person living in the greatest country in the world should have access to quality health care? What about Social Security and Medicare?”
Both times, the crowd shouted back in affirmation and applauded.
“It’s on the ballot, and we have to do everything within our power to protect it, not just for our generation, but for future generations to come,” she said.
Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, who introduced Demings, also talked about Medicare and Social Security. Bauman is president of the Social Security Works Political Action Committee, although he’s probably more famous from his time with Sha Na Na.
He said that, although he loves ‘50s and early ‘60s music, he wouldn’t prefer that time period, “because I don’t want to return to a time before Medicare was passed in 1965 when over 35% of American seniors had incomes below the poverty line.”
Demings’ visit came one day after Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned in Brownwood Paddock Square, and one day before her debate with incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
Both the Sumter County Republican and Democratic parties are holding watch parties for tonight’s debate.
“There are a lot of visits from the Republican side, so it’s great to have Mrs. Demings come in, and we’re only too glad to show our support for her,” said Mike Faulk, Villages Democratic Club president and Village of Collier resident.
Right now, Rubio is ahead in the race. The latest poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy shows him with a six-point lead.
The window for Demings to make up that gap is dwindling, but she’s been campaigning hard. For example, Demings joined Charlie Crist, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and first lady Jill Biden on Saturday in Orlando.
Monday was Demings’ second visit to The Villages this year. The first was in June, an event that also saw her hop in a golf cart. When her campaign bus arrived in the Eisenhower parking lot Monday, a large, blue-clad crowd greeted her with signs.
Pat Morge, of Village Valle Verde, came to the event wearing a shirt that said “Who We Elect Matters.”
“I’m a proud Democrat all my life, and I really think Val Demings is the woman for the job. I really do,” Morge said. “Between her background and what she’ll do for Florida, I really do — and she supports seniors.”
Shortly before departing, Demings discussed voting rights.
“And today the great, wonderful, dedicated people in The Villages, today you’re going to cast your vote and I’m going with you!” Demings said over cheers. “Let the people vote!”
Demings’ campaign bus led the way into the service center in Wildwood, with Demings following close behind in a golf cart.
Bill Keen, Sumter elections supervisor, and elections staff were ready to receive the ballots outside the office. Keen and his staff greeted caravan members and handed out “I Voted” stickers.
“It was exhilarating to be with all these people,” said Susan Montgomery, of the Village of Fernandina.
Montgomery’s ballot, and the other ballots returned Monday, were part of the nearly 4.2 million vote-by-mail ballots that have already gone out statewide. Voting by mail is popular in Sumter County, which is known for its high voter turnout rate. During the August primary, about 48% of those who voted did so using mail ballots.
As of Monday afternoon, about 6,900 Sumter voters had already returned their vote by mail ballots with three weeks remaining until the election.
Specialty Editor Leah Schwarting can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5375, or email@example.com.