By Jaclyn Ambrecht
Brightly colored mansions with manicured lawns line Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa while only a few blocks over, past Gandy Boulevard, bungalows with chipping paint emerge through low hanging palm trees. Residents from both sides of the boulevard, however, frequently join together for art festivals and dining at the nearby Hyde Park shopping center. South Tampa, a neighborhood in Hillsborough County, Florida, illustrates the fusion of ages, races, United States’ origins, and socioeconomic levels in the county. David J Dent spoke to Adam C. Smith, political editor of The Tampa Bay Tribune, who says Hillsborough “is very much a microcosm of all of America.” It is also Florida’s only Bush-Obama county. The county’s increasing diversity creates an evolving political platform where there is an anxious sense surrounding tomorrow night’s debates.
“Republicans are excited and think Florida is now in reach while many Democrats are angry with Obama and hoping that Biden will not look whist less as Obama as though he has given up. Hillsborough County is a bellwether county and is really is very much of a microcosm of all of America. And so, if there’s a national poll it’s a decent reflection of Hillsborough County. It’s got rural, urban, suburban, it’s got African American, it’s got Hispanic. And it happens to be a county that holds a lot of swing voters. It’s a county where a lot of corporations do product testing and focus groups on messaging, etc, and not necessarily political, because it’s very much a sort of a reflection of all of America. It’s got Southerners, it’s got Northeasterners, it’s got Midwesterners. So I yeah, I think that probably does reflect Hillsborough County.”
“Well, I would say that I’d compare it to the last election, where you just did not see much Republican enthusiasm for John McCain. There wasn’t a lot of ground organizing for John McCain. My sense is that this time there is quite a bit of enthusiasm and people are really turning out phone banks, etc. Not that all are enthusiastic about Mitt Romney, but they’re just very energized to beat Barack Obama. And likewise, both campaigns - Romney and Obama – have their state headquarters based in Tampa. And Obama, as he did last time, just has an enormous campaign operation. Last time they blew the doors off of anything Florida had ever seen, and I think they’re going to do that again. And maybe a little bit to my surprise, I find that a lot of Democrats do not have any trouble packing all these phone banks and these meet-ups and campaign events. So I’m not sure that Democratic enthusiasm is really down that much either. I don’t know, maybe it is among younger voters, but we haven’t really looked at that so closely.”
“There’s not a giant Jewish population in Tampa Bay, but I talked to a Rabbi just the other day who said he’s voting Republican for the first presidential election in his life, he just can’t stomach Obama, and I’ve talked to a lot of Obama volunteers that weren’t engaged last time. I think, early on, I was assuming there was going to be an enthusiasm gap, where it was going to be hard to match the excitement on the Democratic side after 4 years with a fresh face, etc, but it’s very easy to find people who are volunteering for the first time. And then, again, I think the Republicans seem to be very motivated, not for Romney, but they seem very motivated and energized at the election, and I think it’s so hard to call.”
“But ask yourself the question, are you better off today than you were four years ago? I don’t think many people around here think they’re better off than they were four years ago. We may have stayed off the cliff, but we’re still in a lot more pain than we were the day he took office.”
“If you personalize it; this is a state where, the last I saw, 44% of our houses are underwater, we still have a very high unemployment rate, underemployment rate, companies everywhere have cut salaries; I don’t think there are a whole lot of people, especially middle-class people, that feel that despite the statistics, that they’re actually doing pretty well, or they’re better off than they were.”
“Well I think that’s what makes Tampa bay, or Hillsborough or Florida as a whole, so complicated for candidates, because it’s not at all stagnant. You have to keep introducing yourself. If you’re running for Senate, for instance, every time you run you have millions of new voters that really know nothing about you, and Florida changes so much that it’s constantly evolving, and it’s a real challenge to figure out who your voters are and keeping your voter list up to date, and who you’re going to target. Tampa’s getting younger, which helps Obama, it’s getting more diverse, which helps Obama, and I think the real question is going to be your independent voters, who came to him fairly comfortably last time and seem to be very much up for grabs this time.”