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Even In Florida Swing County, Minds Seem Made Up

Aug 6, 2012
Originally published on August 6, 2012 10:04 pm

Let's take a picture of America in the latter months of an election year. We want to sense what's on this country's mind. So Morning Edition begins a series of reports from First and Main. Several times in the next few months, we'll travel to a battleground state, then to a vital county in each state. In that county we find a starting point for our visit — an iconic American corner — First and Main streets.

We begin in the swing state of Florida, in hotly contested Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa. The county voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2004, then for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

Here, First and Main are two gravel roads that meet in a trailer park in a suburban area called Lutz. The trailers have grown over the years, residents say, into full-sized homes — some have permanent rooms or carports attached.

Just down the street from First and Main, we encounter kids standing on a waist-high pile of gravel, along with their mother, Katrina Bordwell — and a story about change in Florida.

"Our yard flooded so we have to raise it," Bordwell says. She's spreading the gravel across the yard, hoping to raise it above the water level.

"This whole street floods," she says. "Pretty much all of Lutz floods."

A flood of development has meant change to the landscape. Of course, in recent years, Florida real estate development took a dark turn.

Bordwell works for a foreclosure company, where, she says, business is "skyrocketing."

That's good for her, though not so good for Ray Lucas, who's standing nearby. He manages this trailer park, after he shut down his business doing pest-control inspections on newly sold homes.

"I relied on real estate transactions, and when the housing market took a dump, so did my business," he says.

'I Haven't Seen Any Change'

Florida's economy is recovering from the financial crisis that started five years ago — recovering, but not recovered.

Susan MacManus — a political scientist whose family was among the first to develop land around here a century ago — stood with us at the corner of First and Main.

"One of the explanations for the 2010 election in Florida, which went heavily Republican after voting for Obama in 2008 — all you have to do is look at the pockets of foreclosures and the related unemployment, and you get a good picture for how things have changed and how much of a pressure it made on people," she says.

"Tampa's still, unfortunately, just had an upswing in foreclosures again. So it's a constant reminder to people: Everybody knows someone who's lost their home or is going to, or someone who has lost their job."

We came to this struggling area seeking richer information than we'd get from public opinion polls, by visiting voters where they live.

The neighborhood around First and Main isn't rich, though it's comfortable. Right at the corner of First and Main, we find the carport where Ed Faucher is relaxing in the evening with his Pomeranian dog. He waves us in, through the chain-link fence.

He's a semi-retired truck driver, sitting on a lawn chair with his shirt off. He's got the silver hair and squinty eyes of the late actor Robert Mitchum.

"I've always been a Democrat, but I ended up changing my affiliation to independent," he says. "My wife ... she's a die-hard Republican. And her and I had a few differences on it. So I said, 'You know what? I'm just going to go independent [and] vote the way I want.'"

He voted for John McCain in 2008 and opposes Obama in 2012.

"I don't hate him," Faucher says. "I don't think he's done enough for the country. You know, all this talking about change — I haven't seen any change. Four billion dollars a day in debt every day. It goes up every time you wake up in the morning."

Asked for his opinion about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, he says: "Being I was from Massachusetts originally, I know people up there. When he put in his health care program, people were squawking about it, but I also know people [who] love it. You know, they say it's the best thing that ever happened. It got them off their fannies and they finally got health insurance."

But while Faucher approves of what Romney did in Massachusetts, he's not on board with the similar federal health care law passed under Obama.

"I'm happy with what I got, really," he says. Faucher worries the new health care law could affect his choices under the federal Medicare program, which he likes.

Health care remains the trickiest of political issues.

'That Gap Is Growing'

When we tell Faucher of our plans to talk to a few of his neighbors, he says, "I don't think anybody will give you any problem."

And nobody did. Not even the guy just outside the trailer park, down the street from First and Main. He built a black steel fence with an electric-powered gate around his house.

"The truth is I'm not much of a good neighbor," he says. "You can tell by my gargoyles. I'm not welcoming."

Roland Lamb is a white-bearded man, who looks a little gruff, like the gargoyles that flank his gate. But he courteously stands to chat for a while.

He and his wife built a ranch house on several acres beside a lake. The driveway curves across the perfect lawn like the yellow brick road. The gate faces the trailer park at First and Main.

"I've always voted Democratic," Lamb says. "And I have a — it's kind of hard to get me to vote any other way. I'm not stupid but I, in general, I agree with their philosophy. I think there are a lot of people in this world that need help and there are a lot of people that are fabulously wealthy and that gap is growing and that's stupid. That's wrong, that's morally wrong in my opinion."

Lamb says he and his wife are lucky. They chose a profession that's doing well, even in this economy. They are medical malpractice lawyers.

And though Lamb is painfully aware that many of the neighbors are suffering, he does not blame the president.

"He's been in office fighting a bunch of right-wing nuts for most of that four years. I was disappointed in him early on; he could have accomplished a lot more," Lamb says.

"I hate the health care plan, but I don't hate it for the reasons most people do. I hate it because we've included the insurance companies as middlemen. And if people had a little bit of a brain, they'd realize that as long as we let insurance companies run this, we're just paying a big middleman, that's all we're doing. And things aren't going to change."

Lamb voted for Obama in 2008, and whatever his disappointments, he plans to do it again in 2012. That is the most common pattern we found in Hillsborough County, Fla.

The way people voted in 2008 — for or against the president — signals their perception of everything that's happened since and, usually, the way they intend to vote this fall.

The rarest voter is a person who's changed his mind.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's take a picture of America in the latter months of an election year. We want to sense what's on this country's mind. So we begin a series of reports from First and Main.

In the next few months, we'll travel to battleground states, then to vital counties in each state. And in each county, we find a starting point for our visit: an iconic American corner, First and Main Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

INSKEEP: That's where we climbed out of the car in the swing state of Florida, in hotly contested Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa. Hillsborough voted for President Bush in 2004, then for President Obama in 2008.

This intersection of First and Main is in a suburban area called Lutz. It's a corner where two gravel roads meet in a trailer park.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOG)

INSKEEP: Trailers that have grown over the years and over the decades - according to residents - into full-sized houses. You'll have a trailer with a permanent room attached, a carport on the front that becomes a comfortable porch, a place to sit in the evenings, smoke a cigarette.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIDS CHATTERING)

INSKEEP: Just down the street from First and Main, we encountered kids standing on a waist-high pile of gravel - along with their mother, Katrina Bordwell - and a story about change in Florida.

KATRINA BORDWELL: Our yard flooded, so we have to raise it.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's what happened here.

BORDWELL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: She's spreading the gravel across the yard, hoping to raise it above the waterline.

BORDWELL: This whole street floods. Pretty much all of Lutz floods.

INSKEEP: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Because there's lakes everywhere?

BORDWELL: Yeah. Pretty much.

INSKEEP: And because people have messed with the drainage, too, I guess.

BORDWELL: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Because there's been a lot of development, a lot of change.

BORDWELL: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Of course, in recent years, Florida real estate development took a dark turn.

BORDWELL: I work for a foreclosure company.

INSKEEP: A foreclosure company. How's business been?

(LAUGHTER)

BORDWELL: It's skyrocketing.

INSKEEP: Good for her, though not so good for Ray Lucas, who's standing nearby. He manages this trailer park, after he shut down his business, doing pest control inspections on newly sold homes.

RAY LUCAS: I relied on real estate transactions, and when the housing market took a dump, so did my business, because I dealt with real estate companies and title companies. And when you're not selling houses, I'm not getting any work.

INSKEEP: Florida's economy is recovering from the financial crisis that started five years ago - recovering, but not recovered.

We talked about this with Susan MacManus, a political scientist whose family was among the first to develop land around here a century ago. She stood with us at the corner of First and Main.

SUSAN MACMANUS: One of the explanations for the 2010 election in Florida - which went Republican after voting for Obama in 2008 - all you have to do is look at the pockets of foreclosures and the related unemployment, and you get a good picture for, you know, how things have changed and how much of a pressure it made on people.

And Tampa's still, unfortunately, just had an upswing in foreclosures again. So it's a constant reminder to people: Everybody knows someone who's lost their home or is going to, or has lost their job and might.

INSKEEP: We came to this struggling area seeking richer information than we'd get from public opinion polls, by visiting voters where they live. This neighborhood is not prosperous, though it is comfortable.

Kind of creativity to this place. I'm not sure why there's a propane tank hanging upside down from a tree almost like it's a swing, but there it is.

And right at the corner of First and Main, we found the carport where Ed Faucher relaxed in the evening with his Pomeranian dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

INSKEEP: He waves us in, through the chain-link fence.

We have a number of different people - I should tell you - who are going to different communities and basically going to First and Main Street and starting there and going out and talking to people.

ED FAUCHER: OK. Oh, really? OK.

INSKEEP: And here you are at First and Main...

FAUCHER: First and Main. Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...the center of everything.

FAUCHER: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: He's a semi-retired truck driver, sitting on a lawn chair with his shirt off. He's got the silver hair and squinty eyes that make you think of the late actor Robert Mitchum.

FAUCHER: I've always been a Democrat, but I ended up changing my affiliation to independent.

INSKEEP: And why was that?

FAUCHER: My wife, well, I guess she's a die-hard Republican. And her and I had a few differences on it. So I says, you know what? I'm just going to go independent, vote the way I want.

INSKEEP: He voted for John McCain in 2008, and opposes President Obama in 2012.

FAUCHER: I don't hate him. No, I don't hate him. I don't think he's done enough for the country. You know, this all is talking about change, I haven't seen any change. Four billion dollars in debt every day. It goes up every time you wake up in the morning.

INSKEEP: What about Romney? What do you think of him?

FAUCHER: Well, being that I was from Massachusetts originally, I know people up there. When he put in his health care program, people were squawking about it, but I also know people, they love it. You know, they say it's the best thing that ever happened. He got them off their fannies and they finally got health insurance.

INSKEEP: Well, now that's interesting. The heart of that plan was a mandate...

FAUCHER: Right.

INSKEEP: ...requiring people to buy health insurance.

FAUCHER: Right.

INSKEEP: It sounds like you approve of that - like, make people pay, because they're going to use it. That's what you seem to be saying.

FAUCHER: Yeah, yeah. If you can afford anything, pay it.

INSKEEP: And the national health care law includes a mandate or a tax penalty, or whatever they're calling it.

FAUCHER: Well, Supreme Court said it's a tax. He said it's a mandate.

INSKEEP: Do you approve of the idea, whatever the name is?

FAUCHER: Not really. I'm happy what I got, really.

INSKEEP: Faucher worries the new health care law could affect his choices under the federal Medicare program, which he likes. Health care remains the trickiest of political issues.

Well, it was a pleasure to meet you, sir.

OK. We're going to walk around, probably knock on a couple more doors.

FAUCHER: Yeah.

INSKEEP: All right.

FAUCHER: I don't think anybody will give you any problem.

INSKEEP: And nobody did give us a problem, not even the guy just outside the trailer park, down the street from First and Main who built a black steel fence with an electric-powered gate around his house.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE OPENING)

ROLAND LAMB: Well, the truth is, I'm not much of a good neighbor. You can tell by my gargoyles. I'm not welcoming.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Roland Lamb is a white-bearded man who looks a little gruff, a little like the gargoyles that flank his gate. But he courteously stands to chat for a while. He and his wife built a ranch house on several acres beside a lake. The driveway curves across the perfect lawn like the yellow brick road. The gate faces the trailer park at First and Main.

LAMB: I've always voted Democratic. And I have a - it's kind of hard to get me to vote any other way. I'm not stupid, but I, in general, I agree with their philosophy. I think there are a lot of people in this world that need help. And there are a lot of people that are fabulously wealthy, and that gap is growing, and that's stupid. That's wrong. It's morally wrong, in my opinion.

INSKEEP: Lamb says he and his wife are lucky. They chose a profession that is doing well, even in this economy. They are medical malpractice lawyers. And though Lamb is painfully aware that many of the neighbors are suffering, he does not blame the president.

LAMB: You know, he's been in office fighting a bunch of right-wing nuts for most of that four years. I was disappointed in him early on. He could have accomplished a lot more. I hate the health care plan, but I don't hate it for the reasons most people do. I hate it because we've included the insurance companies as middlemen. And if people had a little bit of a brain, they'd realize that as long as we let insurance companies run this, we're just paying a big middleman. That's all we're doing. And things aren't going to change.

INSKEEP: Roland Lamb voted for President Obama in 2008, and whatever his disappointments, he plans to do it again in 2012. That is the most common pattern we found in Hillsborough County, Florida. The way people voted in 2008 - for or against the president - signals their perception of everything that has happened since and, usually, the way they intend to vote this fall. The rarest voter is a person who's changed his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Our series First and Main continues tomorrow with the story of a man who's selling his motorcycle to make ends meet.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I've had a windshield put on it and two new tires and kept very good care of it. And it's definitely worth more than what I'm going to sell it for, but I need the money badly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You're hearing First and Main on this local public radio station, and you can join the conversation throughout the day on social media. We're on Facebook. We're also on Twitter. You can find us @MORNINGEDITION and @NPRInskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.