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Presidential Campaigns Pass Through 'The Villages' Ahead Of Florida Primary
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Presidential Campaigns Pass Through 'The Villages' Ahead Of Florida Primary

Elections

Presidential Campaigns Pass Through 'The Villages' Ahead Of Florida Primary

Presidential Campaigns Pass Through 'The Villages' Ahead Of Florida Primary
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One popular campaign stop on the trail ahead of the Florida primary is a retirement community called "The Villages." NPR explores why it's such a magnet for presidential campaigns.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Republican candidates have been campaigning all over Florida in the lead up to the state's presidential primary, and often, their events are at locales that are little more than backdrops. But sometimes they're in very interesting places. From member station WMFE in Orlando, Renata Sago takes us to one such place - a huge retirement community called the villages.

RENATA SAGO, BYLINE: In a crowded room, gray-haired men and women wave posters and pat their feet with excitement like kids on a playground.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have with us today, as you know, Senator Marco Rubio, soon to be president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

MARCO RUBIO: Thank you.

SAGO: Linda Wiernasz cheers from the back row, decked out in Marco Rubio gear.

LINDA WIERNASZ: He's the upcoming young man. You want to see the younger people getting experience to run this country. We can't have all the old people. You got to mix it up.

SAGO: More than 70 percent of residents in The Villages are over 65 years old. This is Rubio's second trip to see them in the months leading up to primary season. Other candidates, like Ben Carson, and even relatives, like Ted Cruz's dad, have passed through, too. For Wiernasz, it's clear why.

WIERNASZ: Because old people go out and vote (laughter).

SAGO: In fact, The Villages had the highest rate of voter turnout in Florida in 2014. And these aren't just any old people. As Marco Rubio points out, they're well-off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUBIO: If you can live in The Villages, it means you were probably pretty successful in business, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGO: There are million-dollar houses nestled between golf courses, and the winding roads have special lanes for golf carts. Many of the people here moved down from the Northeast, like attorney Richard Cole from Philadelphia.

RICHARD COLE: Number one, they were able to retire. And number two, they were able to retire at a place they chose.

SAGO: Cole retired here in August 2004. Weeks later, President George W. Bush made a campaign stop. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich stumped here in 2012 - notice a pattern? Voters here are reliably Republican. A visit from then vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008 drew the largest crowd in The Village's history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH PALIN: Thank you so much for that very, very warm welcome. It's so good to be here in Florida.

(CHEERING)

PALIN: Thank you so much. I thank you.

SAGO: This part of the state is growing fast. The population has doubled in the past five years to more than 100,000. For voters like Cole, that means one thing.

COLE: The road to the White House goes through Tallahassee, and the road through Tallahassee goes through The Villages. It's a must stop. It really is.

SAGO: Even as primary season winds down, voters here know that in a few more months, presidential campaigns will pass through again, looking for general election votes. For NPR News, I'm Renata Sago in The Villages.

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