The first day Jane Caple showed up to register voters at the Orange County Fairgrounds Swap Meet, she arrived promptly at 6 a.m. with "my little table and my big hat and my long sleeves."
Many hours later, Caple was feeling a little cranky, having found her outfit to be little protection from the sun. "I was zonked out," said Caple, 68, of Fullerton, who is voter registration chairwoman of Orange County Republican Women, Federated. "I was really a mess."
But people just kept coming up to her to be registered or re-registered at new addresses.
"I was absolutely astounded," Caple said. "People swamped me." By the end of the day, she had registered 124 people, nearly all of them Republicans.
All told, about 2,500 Republicans have been registered at the swap meet in the past several months, according to county GOP officials.
Since that Sunday last April when she jumped into the fray, Caple has personally put more than 900 GOP voters on the rolls, nearing her personal goal of 1,000. On many weekends, she is out there herself at what she describes as the "perfect" spot--opposite a beer and lunch stand and near the ladies' restroom. In recent weeks, other county GOP clubs have manned the spot and a few creature comforts, including a canopy, have been added.
Caple said swap meet owner Bob Teller came around to see her one day.
"He had an entourage of two or three men with notebooks. He said, 'This is an important booth. We need to have a better show here,' or something like that," Caple said. "He said, 'I want you to find the biggest elephant you can find.' "
But Caple had a better idea: "I said, 'I'd rather have a canopy.' "
Teller, a Republican, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. But a spokesman for his office said the Democrats also would be allowed to register voters at the swap meet, if they asked.
Caple got both the canopy and a 5-foot Dumbo elephant, symbolizing the Republican Party's mascot. The elephant helps draw potential voters to her booth "while the kids are flapping around Dumbo," Caple said.
Caple, who has a lively sense of humor, gives herself credit for being "pretty dedicated--I work hard when I go at it." But she is the first to note that she had some help along the way.
One weekend, for example, "I found this darling young girl," Caple said. "She really was cute in every way and she had this sports car. She wanted to register voters. I said, 'She's just perfect for there.' "
Sure enough, the woman "parked her sports car and unrolled her blond hair"--and promptly registered 148 people.