October 01, 2008

Strawberry market draws produce lovers and would-be presidents

Img00035PLANT CITY -- Apparently Naked Politics picked the wrong time of year to visit Parkesdale Groves. As you can see from the sign to the left, it's not shortcake season yet.

But the strawberry shakes are delicious, and many shoppers said the low prices for fresh fruit and vegetables can't be beat.

Democrat Barack Obama campaigned here. So did President Bush, and his brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush.

"Everyone is concerned about the I-4 corridor,'' said owner Jim Meeks, who passed on a copy of the local paper's story on Obama's visit. "They've all been here. It's kind of like they come to get a feel for the people."

This small town is on the eastern edge of Hillsborough County, which has been picking presidents for years. Why? Because the county is like a microcosm of Florida: rural here, urban back in Tampa, retirement communities, and of course, suburban sprawl.

Cafe con leche y politica

Img00032_2 TAMPA -- It's the Versailles of Tampa Bay, a seen-and-be-seen kind of place frequented by candidates and locals looking for a fix of strong Cuban coffee. Inside the West Tampa Sandwich Shop, 51-year-old Michael Diaz talked about the financial squeeze.

Diaz is a carpenter who used to run a fishing guide business but no longer can afford the fuel for his boat. He's got four kids. He's has been caring for his ailing mother, who died yesterday. "It's an ordeal,'' he said. "Life is not easy."

Diaz is a registered Democrat but he's leaning toward Republican John McCain because of his government experience.

"We have serious problems and we need a serious person to take care of them,'' he said. "I'm looking for someone who is going to give us great leadership."

Independent voters abound in Ybor City

Img00031_2YBOR CITY -- This historic neighborhood northeast of Tampa first populated by Cuban cigar-makers attracts a young, nightlife-seeking crowd. Many are independent voters leery of the major political parties.

"I don't like the strings attached to party affiliation,'' said John Farmer, 25, who was drinking a beer and talking politics Tuesday night.

Nearly 40 percent of the state's independent voters live in the 12 counties hugging the I-4 corridor running from here to Daytona Beach.

September 30, 2008

Naked Politics hits the road

Golfcart_2SUN CITY -- Naked Politics is driving the famed I-4 corridor this week, the biggest battleground in the nation's biggest battleground state.

First stop: Sun City Center, a retirement community between Sarasota and Tampa that leans Republican but where many residents have had it with the current administration.

Take Don Schuster, who should be an easy vote for Republican John McCain. He's an 80-year-old Korean War veteran and registered Republican who can't remember the last time he voted for a Democrat for president. Yet he still hasn't settled on the Republican nominee. Maybe it wasn't so crazy for Democrat Barack Obama to to open a campaign office in this community dominated by Midwest conservatives after all.

"In my lifetime I've never seen the swings in the economy that we've seen in the last month,'' Schuster said. "The Republican party has changed in the last eight years. It used to be a conservative, middle-of-the-road party. And they sold themselves out."