Even In Florida Swing County, Minds Seem Made Up

  • Faces of Florida's First and Main: Susan MacManus lives in her family's home on a secluded plot of land near Lutz, Fla. MacManus, shown at the old train depot across from the public library, is a political scientist and local historian. Her family was among the first to develop land around here a century ago.
    Hide caption
    Faces of Florida's First and Main: Susan MacManus lives in her family's home on a secluded plot of land near Lutz, Fla. MacManus, shown at the old train depot across from the public library, is a political scientist and local historian. Her family was among the first to develop land around here a century ago.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Jayla Mills, 18, lives in the Metro 510 apartment complex that was funded with stimulus money in downtown Tampa. She entered the foster care system at 15 and recently aged out but is fighting for custody of her special needs daughter, Promise. "Do I need the president in this courtroom? Who do I need next to me? Because right now, I have nobody." Mills is undecided about who to vote for this fall.
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    Jayla Mills, 18, lives in the Metro 510 apartment complex that was funded with stimulus money in downtown Tampa. She entered the foster care system at 15 and recently aged out but is fighting for custody of her special needs daughter, Promise. "Do I need the president in this courtroom? Who do I need next to me? Because right now, I have nobody." Mills is undecided about who to vote for this fall.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Gregory Brown, 52, used to be a glazier installing plate-glass windows. He now lives off of unemployment checks, plus the disability checks of a woman who lives with him in Lutz, Fla. Brown is selling his motorcycle to help pay the bills. He is eager to vote President Obama out this fall, and says he plans to register to vote before the election.
    Hide caption
    Gregory Brown, 52, used to be a glazier installing plate-glass windows. He now lives off of unemployment checks, plus the disability checks of a woman who lives with him in Lutz, Fla. Brown is selling his motorcycle to help pay the bills. He is eager to vote President Obama out this fall, and says he plans to register to vote before the election.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • My Bui just had a model home built in Brandon, Fla., which he and his wife moved into in June. Brandon is a Tampa suburb that has been hit hard by foreclosures, but Bui says the plots in their development are selling, and houses are going up fast.
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    My Bui just had a model home built in Brandon, Fla., which he and his wife moved into in June. Brandon is a Tampa suburb that has been hit hard by foreclosures, but Bui says the plots in their development are selling, and houses are going up fast.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Robert "Pete" Edwards is a registered Republican who argues that Obama has not done enough for the black community. Edwards' grandson, Michael Bailey, 2, was the last baby baptized in the historic St. Paul's church, before the building was sold and turned into a community center.
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    Robert "Pete" Edwards is a registered Republican who argues that Obama has not done enough for the black community. Edwards' grandson, Michael Bailey, 2, was the last baby baptized in the historic St. Paul's church, before the building was sold and turned into a community center.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Claude Walker has been a pastor for 40 years and started working at the First Baptist Church in Plant City, Fla., three years ago. He supports Mitt Romney because of his family values.
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    Claude Walker has been a pastor for 40 years and started working at the First Baptist Church in Plant City, Fla., three years ago. He supports Mitt Romney because of his family values.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Sofia Martinez, 40, is the daughter of migrant farm workers. She jokes that she was made in Mexico but born in the USA. She is a registered nurse who passionately supports the Dream Act and plans to vote for Mitt Romney in the fall.
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    Sofia Martinez, 40, is the daughter of migrant farm workers. She jokes that she was made in Mexico but born in the USA. She is a registered nurse who passionately supports the Dream Act and plans to vote for Mitt Romney in the fall.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Roland Lamb and his wife live behind an automated gate across the street from a trailer park. The Lambs are malpractice lawyers. "The truth is," says Lamb, "I'm not much of a good neighbor. You can tell by my gargoyles, I'm not welcoming." He voted for President Obama in 2008 and, despite some frustrations, will vote for him again this year.
    Hide caption
    Roland Lamb and his wife live behind an automated gate across the street from a trailer park. The Lambs are malpractice lawyers. "The truth is," says Lamb, "I'm not much of a good neighbor. You can tell by my gargoyles, I'm not welcoming." He voted for President Obama in 2008 and, despite some frustrations, will vote for him again this year.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Parkesdale Farm Market is run by Jim Meeks, 70, and his extended family, including his daughter-in-law Xiomara Meeks, 36. Business is booming and the stand has been a mainstay on presidential campaign stops since the days of George H.W. Bush. The key to winning, says Meeks, is drinking a strawberry milkshake. He is voting for Romney and his daughter-in-law is voting for Obama.
    Hide caption
    Parkesdale Farm Market is run by Jim Meeks, 70, and his extended family, including his daughter-in-law Xiomara Meeks, 36. Business is booming and the stand has been a mainstay on presidential campaign stops since the days of George H.W. Bush. The key to winning, says Meeks, is drinking a strawberry milkshake. He is voting for Romney and his daughter-in-law is voting for Obama.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • New Tampa is a suburb that suffered from multiple foreclosures several years ago, but is now on the rebound. Wanda Kos has lived in the community for eight years. Kos is undecided, but voted for Obama in 2008 and feels positively about his presidency. She is concerned for the future of her daughter Sofia, 6, and her two older children.
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    New Tampa is a suburb that suffered from multiple foreclosures several years ago, but is now on the rebound. Wanda Kos has lived in the community for eight years. Kos is undecided, but voted for Obama in 2008 and feels positively about his presidency. She is concerned for the future of her daughter Sofia, 6, and her two older children.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Hot Rods BBQ is a family owned restaurant in Lutz, Fla. "Hot Rod" Gaudin, his wife, Helen, and their extended family all pitch in telling jokes, sharing food and manning the wood-burning grill. Rod Gaudin supports Mitt Romney but his wife is undecided.
    Hide caption
    Hot Rods BBQ is a family owned restaurant in Lutz, Fla. "Hot Rod" Gaudin, his wife, Helen, and their extended family all pitch in telling jokes, sharing food and manning the wood-burning grill. Rod Gaudin supports Mitt Romney but his wife is undecided.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • Michael Bailey, 2, was the last baby baptized in St. Paul's AME church in downtown Tampa. Rev. Jesse Jackson preached here and Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and President Clinton all spoke here, but the dwindling congregation forced the church to close.
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    Michael Bailey, 2, was the last baby baptized in St. Paul's AME church in downtown Tampa. Rev. Jesse Jackson preached here and Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and President Clinton all spoke here, but the dwindling congregation forced the church to close.
    Becky Lettenberger/NPR

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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.

The intersection of First and Main in Lutz, Fla., is located on a privately owned road in a trailer park community. i i

hide captionThe intersection of First and Main in Lutz, Fla., is located on a privately owned road in a trailer park community.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR
The intersection of First and Main in Lutz, Fla., is located on a privately owned road in a trailer park community.

The intersection of First and Main in Lutz, Fla., is located on a privately owned road in a trailer park community.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR

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."

Katrina Bordwell's home was flooded recently after nearby development stopped up a drainage pipe. Bordwell, 24, lives in the community with her children, from left, Leo, 3, her boyfriend's son Kyle Cose, 3, and Zoey, 5. i i

hide captionKatrina Bordwell's home was flooded recently after nearby development stopped up a drainage pipe. Bordwell, 24, lives in the community with her children, from left, Leo, 3, her boyfriend's son Kyle Cose, 3, and Zoey, 5.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR
Katrina Bordwell's home was flooded recently after nearby development stopped up a drainage pipe. Bordwell, 24, lives in the community with her children, from left, Leo, 3, her boyfriend's son Kyle Cose, 3, and Zoey, 5.

Katrina Bordwell's home was flooded recently after nearby development stopped up a drainage pipe. Bordwell, 24, lives in the community with her children, from left, Leo, 3, her boyfriend's son Kyle Cose, 3, and Zoey, 5.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR

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."

Fast Facts: Hillsborough County

Demographic, voting and economic data about Hillsborough County, Fla.

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.

The home of Ed Faucher on the corner of First and Main in Lutz, Fla. i i

hide captionThe home of Ed Faucher on the corner of First and Main in Lutz, Fla.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR
The home of Ed Faucher on the corner of First and Main in Lutz, Fla.

The home of Ed Faucher on the corner of First and Main in Lutz, Fla.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR

"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.

Roland Lamb and his wife live behind an automated gate across the street from the trailer park. The Lambs are malpractice lawyers. He voted for President Obama in 2008 and despite some frustrations will vote for him again. i i

hide captionRoland Lamb and his wife live behind an automated gate across the street from the trailer park. The Lambs are malpractice lawyers. He voted for President Obama in 2008 and despite some frustrations will vote for him again.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR
Roland Lamb and his wife live behind an automated gate across the street from the trailer park. The Lambs are malpractice lawyers. He voted for President Obama in 2008 and despite some frustrations will vote for him again.

Roland Lamb and his wife live behind an automated gate across the street from the trailer park. The Lambs are malpractice lawyers. He voted for President Obama in 2008 and despite some frustrations will vote for him again.

Becky Lettenberger/NPR

"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.

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