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An Undecided Florida Voter Faces Emotional Decision

Aug 10, 2012
Originally published on August 10, 2012 12:25 pm

As the presidential election nears, Morning Edition has begun a series of reports from an iconic American corner: 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: First and Main streets, the intersection of politics and real life.

We started our trip to Florida's Hillsborough County at the corner of First and Main in a suburban town. From there, we crossed the county, meeting trailer-park residents, members of a historic church, owners of a fruit stand and more.

We finish at the end of a Tampa cul-de-sac, where Wanda Kos stepped out into her garage the other day.

Kos, the daughter of Costa Rican immigrants, is the mother of three. She wears sneakers and a gray T-shirt. Her face dimples when she smiles.

Her husband works as a chef, and she's a stay-at-home mom in this area called New Tampa, where suburban-style developments spread out for miles.

This neighborhood has stone countertops, high ceilings and lush Florida palm trees in the yards.

"It looks beautiful, but we have issues," Kos says. "I mean, there's issues in every single place you see in here."

This is the kind of area where the real estate market soared then collapsed during the financial crisis.

"Things feel like they're finally kind of settling in," she says. "People, you know, kind of took their losses and started making do with what they had. A lot of people did lose their houses.

"We had friends that had to move away. We had ... six to nine foreclosures in our neighborhood alone."

Like everybody else, she says, she looked up how much her home is now worth.

"Because we move around, we know we have another move. We know we're going to lose some more money," she says. "So it's kind of tough."

'It Takes Time'

And as she wipes a little sweat from her face on this humid afternoon, Kos thinks of how the neighborhood has become unfamiliar.

"Lot of houses are rentals now. You know, people have moved out and have [rented] their houses," she says. "Couldn't sell the houses so they started renting them. We don't know who they're letting in."

In the last election, she says, she voted for President Obama. And then she laughs — because she doesn't like to get into political fights.

This time around, she says, she's on the fence.

"Usually my husband and I have a huge conversation, and we sit down and we go through our pros and cons, and we go through ... who our candidates are. And we try our hardest," she says.

They both decided on Obama in 2008, she says.

"I think he came in, he thought he could do so much, and everybody ... we wanted to believe this, and we thought it was possible. But like everything, it takes time," she says.

But she's not disappointed in the president.

"I tend to understand," she says, when "you try really hard but, you know, [but] there's just so much you can do."

She adds: "I don't know if I'm a fan of Obamacare."

She hasn't quite figured out what it means for her. All she knows is that she gets all kinds of paperwork if she goes to the hospital now.

'A Very Scary Place'

On social issues, she's with the president. She got in a big argument on Facebook the other day over Chick-fil-A, the restaurant chain whose president spoke out against gay marriage.

She insists she is an undecided voter for now — which, according to surveys, would make her one of the nation's very few.

But she does not start out with a positive impression of the Republican alternative, Mitt Romney.

"I just question too many things about him," she says.

In the coming months, Kos and her husband will be talking through their decision once again, just as they did four years ago. This time around, her decision will be an emotional one — because, as she votes for president, she is voting for a commander in chief.

Her son's commander in chief.

"My son who's 20 [has] just joined the Army, and that is — it's scary," she says. "He's going to leave for basic training Sept. 11. Not Sept. 10, not Sept. 12, Sept. 11."

"And he chose it, and he wanted it, and he thought it was for him. And he fought for it. I mean, we went back and forth for almost 10 months. And for a mom who — I was a single mom for a while — and to work as hard as I did for him to choose it --"

She breaks off, in tears.

"The future is — it's a very scary place."

And with that, Kos and her daughter Sofia go back to cleaning the paint out of the garage.

"So that's my life," she says with a laugh. "You guys got me in a nutshell."

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Hillsborough, County, Florida, we've been listening to voters think. It's part of our series "First and Main," which began at the corner of First and Main, in a mobile home park.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

From there, we've crossed this swing county in a swing state. We've met people everywhere from a fruit stand to a health clinic, to a historic church. We finish at the end of a Tampa cul-de-sac, where Wanda Kos stepped out into her garage the other day. She encouraged her 6-year-old daughter to help dispose of some old cans of paint.

WANDA KOS: Hey, can you go get your paint shirt on?

SOFIA KOS: No.

WANDA KOS: One of your Home Depot ones?

SOFIA KOS: (Sighing)

WANDA KOS: Please?

SOFIA KOS: That would be in my playroom, Mom.

WANDA KOS: Yeah, baby.

INSKEEP: Kos is the daughter of Costa Rican immigrants, and a mother of three. She wears blue-and-white sneakers and an oversized T-shirt. Her face dimples when she smiles. Her husband works as a chef, and she's a stay-at-home mom in this area known as New Tampa, where suburban-style developments spread out for miles. This neighborhood has stone countertops, high ceilings, and lush Florida palm trees in the yards.

WANDA KOS: It looks beautiful, but we have issues. I mean, there's issues in every single place you see in here.

INSKEEP: This is the kind of area where the real estate market soared - and then collapsed during the financial crisis.

WANDA KOS: Things feel like they're finally kind of settling in. People, you know, kind of took their losses and started making do with what they had. A lot of people, you know, did lose their houses. We had friends that had to move away. We had, I think, about four or five - no, more; six to nine foreclosures in our neighborhood alone. But...

INSKEEP: Boy, when you have foreclosures in your neighborhood, does it also make you wonder about what your house is worth or...

WANDA KOS: Oh, we did. We looked it up - like everybody else - because we move around. We know we have another move. We know we're going to lose some more money. So it's kind of tough.

INSKEEP: And as she wipes a little sweat from her face on this humid afternoon, Wanda Kos thinks of how this neighborhood has become a little unfamiliar.

WANDA KOS: A lot of houses are rentals now. You know, people have moved out, and had to rent their houses and...

INSKEEP: Couldn't sell the house, probably.

WANDA KOS: Couldn't sell the houses, so they started renting them. We don't know who they're letting in.

INSKEEP: Do you vote, usually?

WANDA KOS: Yeah. Yeah.

INSKEEP: Who'd you vote for last presidential election - 2008? If you don't...

WANDA KOS: Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: She laughs, because she doesn't like to get into political fights.

But you're saying you voted for Obama in 2008.

WANDA KOS: I did. I did.

INSKEEP: You going to vote this fall?

WANDA KOS: I am.

INSKEEP: And?

WANDA KOS: And still on the fence. You know, usually, my husband and I have a huge conversation, and we sit down and we go through our pros and cons; and we go through all of our candidates. And we try our hardest.

INSKEEP: Did your husband vote for Obama last time?

WANDA KOS: He did.

INSKEEP: OK.

WANDA KOS: He did.

INSKEEP: So you're an Obama couple. What do you think of the president's performance?

WANDA KOS: I think he came in; he thought he could do so much, and everybody - we really - we wanted to believe this, and we thought it was possible. But like everything, it takes time. So...

INSKEEP: So are you disappointed in him, then?

WANDA KOS: No. No. I'm not disappointed in him. You know, I tend to understand people when it comes to - you try really hard but, you know, there's just so much you can do. I don't know if I'm a fan of Obamacare.

INSKEEP: She hasn't quite figured out what it means for her. All she knows is that she gets all kinds of paperwork if she goes to the hospital now. On social issues, she is with the president. She got in a big argument on Facebook the other day over Chick-fil-A, that restaurant chain whose CEO spoke out against gay marriage. She insists she is an undecided voter - which, according to surveys, would make her one of the very few in the nation. But she does not start out with a positive impression of the Republican alternative.

Any thoughts about Mitt Romney?

WANDA KOS: (Pause) No. (Laugher) I mean, I just question too many things about him.

INSKEEP: In the coming months, Wanda Kos and her husband will be talking through their decision once again, just as they did four years ago. This time around, her decision will be emotional because as she votes for president, she is voting for a commander in chief - her son's commander in chief.

WANDA KOS: My son, who's 20, is - just joined the Army. And that is - it's scary.

INSKEEP: Is he still in basic training? He just joined?

WANDA KOS: He's going to leave for basic training September 11th. Not September 10th, not September 12th, September 11th. (Laughter)

INSKEEP: You've got the look on your face that every mom must have, when their son does this.

WANDA KOS: Oh - and he chose it, and he wanted it, and he thought it was for him. And he fought for it. I mean, we went back and forth for almost 10 months. And for a mom who - I was a single mom for a while. And to work as hard as I did, for him to choose it -

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

WANDA KOS: Still a sore subject.

INSKEEP: You want to take a minute? You want to get a Kleenex or something?

WANDA KOS: I'm soaked as it is. So I'm OK.

INSKEEP: It's a little sweaty out here in the garage, that's true.

WANDA KOS: Oh, I am. I know. But yeah, the future is - it's a very scary place.

INSKEEP: And with that, Wanda Kos and her daughter, Sofia, go back to cleaning the paint out of the garage.

WANDA KOS: How 'bout if you - I know how you can help me. Go get a plastic spoon. How's that?

That's my life. (Laughter) You guys got me, in a nutshell.

INSKEEP: One of the voters we met in this incredibly complicated place, Hillsborough, County, Florida; also, incredibly important in this swing state - which President Obama carried in 2008, which Republicans hope to recapture in 2012.

And in fact, I'm standing outside the location of the Republican's upcoming national convention, here in Tampa, Florida. It's the Tampa Bay Times Forum. I'm looking up at this great, curving wall of blue glass, at the outside of the forum. Democrats, of course, will hold their convention in another swing state - North Carolina - in September. And we at MORNING EDITION will continue across the country, listening to voters and their concerns, in our series "First and Main."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.