The first thing Emma Runion did when she woke up Wednesday was to go out into the yard and pull up the signs. Sunrise was still two hours away, the Spanish moss hanging silvery in the darkness, as Runion brought them inside the garage. The yard looked empty. Wiped clean. It had to be done.
“For my own psyche,” said Runion, a 58-year-old Republican and tea party activist. “If I drive home with the signs in the yard, it’s rubbing salt in the wound.”
The wound was wide open Wednesday morning, the dawn of Four More Years. Although Runion campaigned tirelessly for Mitt Romney, walking a precinct every Saturday as a volunteer with the Hillsborough County Republican Party, her drive came from a larger mandate, shared by many of her fellow volunteers: ABO, or Anyone But Obama.
Four More Years is a long time — enough to dampen the spirit. But the opposite was true for Emma Runion. “The battle is lost, the war is not,” she said. “And it begins today.”
The day after the election, as Republican strategists diced the demographics of their loss — Hispanics and young people went with President Obama — the push was already on to make the GOP more inclusive and reflective of the country. The party needed to gather up more of the middle. In other words, it needed to tame the tea partyers who had moved the party to the right.
It was precisely this mentality that energized Emma Runion and her husband, John, to dig in even harder.
After gathering her signs Wednesday morning, Emma went to her computer. First she scanned it for spyware. “Hackers were very busy last night,” she said. Her second order of business was dropping Fox News as her home page, annoyed with the network for pitching in the towel so early and calling Obama the winner. Her new home page: the Blaze, the Glenn Beck-run news site.
About 6:30 a.m., the Runions kept their habit of going to the gym. Emma wore a hot-pink top. John, 65, a retired licensed electrician and union man, wore a T-shirt with an American flag on it. They rode to the gym in John’s brown Ford truck. At the gym, Emma made no apologies for trying to persuade her fellow gymgoers to vote Republican. “I worked on Dan for six months,” she said of the man on the elliptical trainer next to her. She used the Internet to look up their voter registrations.
A hulking man at a weight machine saw Emma and shook his head. “I can’t understand where this country’s going,” he said.
“Keep your chin up,” she said.
Back home — they retired to Valrico, east of Tampa, in 2008 — Emma put on her apron and sprayed a skillet with Pam for scrambled eggs. John looked at the newspaper for the Cryptoquote puzzles he likes. Emma pulled open her pantry. “We are not preppers,” she said, revealing a normal food closet instead of one preparing for anarchy. Canned pears. Canned pumpkin. Sugar. Peanut butter. Dog treats. There was no survival food, but they were planning on stocking up on guns and ammo.
“We’ll probably get a long gun and a short gun,” Emma said. “We’ve already got our concealed carry permits; we just need to be fingerprinted.” That last step was the one that made her hesitant. “Once you are registered, they know who you are. Most firearms now are chipped” for tracking.
They worried that Obama would now downsize the military — “MacDill is going to be a ghost town,” Emma said of the Air Force base in Tampa — to build his own military consisting of the National Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.
“Right-wing nut” is what Emma playfully calls herself, a reference to Obama once categorizing extreme conservatives as fringe. John is less playful, especially when it comes to Obama.
“This guy, who is he?” asked John, at the kitchen counter. “He’s Buddhist, he’s Muslim, he’s Christian. When he addresses the Muslims, he speaks Muslim. When he addresses blacks, he goes into that black dialect. It’s creepy.”
He stirred his oatmeal. “To know this guy is going to have power for the next four years, that’s disturbing.”
Finally, “we are gonna end up like Greece.”
Emma said to John, “Sit down, honey.”
The November sun bounced off the screened-in pool. Emma isn’t one for labels, but she identifies as a conservative Christian who also belongs to the Republican Party of Florida and is proud to call herself a “tea party patriot.”
Interested in Islam, she took a class at a nearby Assembly of God church. “Taught by a reformed Muslim who is now a Christian,” Emma said.
John identified with the tea party but wasn’t much for church.
During breakfast, the kitchen phone rang, and it was their 39-year-old daughter calling from South Carolina to see how her parents were doing.
“We’re fine,” Emma said, in a mourning kind of voice. She listened some more.
“There’s a lot of voter fraud in Florida, so we are gonna see what happens,” she told her daughter. “It’s gonna be okay, honey. We are just going to have to pray and take a stand.”
After breakfast they walked into the back yard. Emma had been campaigning so hard for Romney these last months that she had neglected her garden. Still, the yard was a paradise of citrus and pineapple trees, tropical flowers, blueberry bushes, a peach tree and Mexican petunia. “We are steeling ourselves,” Emma said. “It’s time to regroup.”