TALLAHASSEE - What a grand exercise in role reversal.
Democrats are arguing local control - a traditionally Republican mantra.
Republicans are learning how to protest from the AFL-CIO.
GOP masses are boarding buses, hollering for the cameras and storming public buildings.
"Republicans don't behave like this," said Alex Helwig, 30, who traveled eight hours in a minivan from Baton Rouge, La., to stand outside the state Capitol here all weekend yelling and waving signs.
"We're a new breed," said Patty Birkett, 49, a librarian who joined him.
Maybe it started with President Clinton, who declared himself a New Democrat and got behind welfare reform. Maybe people are mimicking the candidates, both so poll-driven that they became barely distinguishable on the surface.
In any case, last week, the nation watched an angry group (known in some circles as a "mob") storm the Miami offices where ballots were being counted and - some say - bringing the process to a halt. The images were reminiscent of civil rights protests, maybe union demonstrations - certainly not GOP gatherings.
Not that Republicans don't get mad. They're just usually more genteel about it.
Democrats say they're appalled.
"Democrats support peaceful demonstrations, not violent disruptions - that's the key difference," said Doug Hattaway, spokesman for the Gore campaign here, which is now technically called the "recount committee" because you can't have a campaign after an election.
"The Republicans would do well to follow the Democrats' example and not intimidate people. I think it's in true Republican form that they're putting a lot of money into staging demonstrations."
In the case of the Baton Rouge group, what they staged was a long road trip in a 15-seat blue Dodge van. They said they don't usually get involved in public controversies, but Al Gore got them fired up.
"When it comes to our fundamental liberties and freedoms, and fairness, we are very passionate," Helwig said.
So, a week ago Saturday, at a soggy pro-Bush rally in Baton Rouge, a Republican "mob" was born. OK, it was only eight people, including women in their 60s and 70s, but by the time they left Tallahassee yesterday they were very crafty and had big signs, as did hundreds like them who came from as far away as Indiana and Alaska as the Sunday deadline for vote certification approached.
It all started when Helwig met Ricky Roberie, 39, at the Baton Rouge rally. Helwig casually suggested they go to Florida. Roberie mentioned he had a van. Both checked with their wives and planned the trip.
Helwig, an information technology expert at a law firm, had turned his family Web site into a political site, "so I could rant," he said.
He posted details of the journey, and friends e-mailed friends, and soon enough they had a group of eight, most of whom had never met.
Patty Birkett, the librarian, wanted desperately to go but had agreed to substitute for the organist at her church on Sunday. Helwig got on the phone late Friday night and found another organist, and Birkett sprinted to her house with the organ music. "We were singing hymns at midnight," she said, but she was able to take her place on the van the next morning.
Argiro Morgan, 65, a retired education professor and grandmother from Mandeville, La., got the e-mail Friday night and immediately decided to join the group, which was departing early the next morning. "My husband said, `How did you meet these people?'" Morgan recalled. "I said, `The Internet.' He said, `Oh, my Lord.'
"They picked me up on Highway 190 in front of Wal-Mart."
Outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee, things were going fine for the Bush supporters, who easily outnumbered the Gore people. That is, until Sunday afternoon, when a couple of buses pulled up with a few dozen protesters assembled by the labor group AFL-CIO.
"They were very organized," Helwig said. "They had six team leaders, with baseball caps. Each had an earpiece and a microphone. They were positioned evenly throughout the crowd, making their way up to the front and giving orders on what to chant."
Now, the Democrats were threatening to overtake the Republicans, chanting "Every Vote Counts" and "President Gore," Helwig said.
So a Bush supporter went to Radio Shack and brought back a bullhorn.
For the Bush people, it was a seminar on protesting, and they gladly embraced the lesson, even if it was from the AFL-CIO.
"I can honestly say that the rally would not have been nearly as successful had they not shown up," Helwig said. "They taught us how to chant in unison. We really had some bad rhythm going there."
Yesterday, as the action moved across the street into the Leon County Circuit Court, where the Gore campaign filed a lawsuit contesting the results of the Florida election, the Capitol complex was quiet again.
But the die-hards from Baton Rouge were out with their signs again, in front of the courthouse, expertly positioned in front of the "Today Show" cameras.
"We did our job," Helwig said - adding, however, that the job might not be done.
"We agreed, if Al Gore does steal this election, we're going to D.C."