Two years later, Roberts and another commissioner who had opposed Morse were voted out of office.
Since then, Roberts said, the hold the Villages has on Sumter has tightened. Even though the county seat is 30 miles south in Bushnell, most government buildings — the tax collector, the supervisor of elections — have migrated to the Villages.
Morse’s sights are set beyond Central Florida, too. Since 1999, Morse and his family have given at least $6.3 million to state and federal campaigns. He was a Ranger for George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, meaning he helped raise at least $200,000.
This March, Morse and his family contributed $80,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection committee, and he is a member of Romney’s Florida finance team. He and his family have contributed $1.8 million to Romney and Romney-aligned groups in the most-recent presidential cycle.
For Flynn and other Democrats who live in the Villages, Morse’s politics sometimes upset their otherwise pleasant lives.
The newspaper Morse owns, The Villages Daily Sun, runs conservative columnists like Ann Coulter and Oliver North, but no liberal counterpoint or bad news about Morse or the Villages, Flynn says. Curt Hills, assistant managing editor of The Daily Sun, did not return phone calls.
When Democratic candidates drop by to campaign, local reporters usually don’t cover them. Meanwhile, they lavish front-page coverage on top Republicans who visit.
Throughout the day, Fox News provides updates on the TV station, the Villages News Network (VNN). Every half hour, those bulletins can be heard on the streets as they are piped into the speakers attached to the street poles that ring the Villages’ two market squares. (The rest of the time, the speakers play nostalgic rock from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Steppenwolf and the Beach Boys, plus an occasional ad for a local vascular vein center).
Flynn cites several examples of what he calls “participation suppression.” Door-to-door campaigning is prohibited in the Villages. Yard signs are verboten. Candidates can hand out leaflets only at federal mail drop-off areas.
Democrats say they feel marginalized because, when they hand out fliers at the market square, they are relegated to a corner with no shade, Flynn said. Republicans set up down the street in prime office space. When Scott came to the Villages to sign the state budget last year, Flynn said Democrats were told they could not protest and then were told by sheriff’s deputies to leave.
Yet when U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, spoke at the Villages, tea party hecklers lined the street as deputies looked on.
‘In the closet’
“The majority of registered Democrats here are in the closet,” said Diane Davisson, a 67-year-old resident and Democrat.
Dianne Dorman owns a thriving boutique of glitzy women’s clothing across from the Harley-Davidson store that just opened.
“Everyone is in happyland,” Dorman said. “They spend their time eating, drinking and shopping. The Villages is their bubble, and it’s not bursting.”
Dorman and Pat Theros, a sales assistant in her shop, say the dating scene is hot. Widowed women move here looking for a mate, and will rent an apartment until they find someone, Theros said. One reason why line dancing is so popular is it’s a way for people to dance if they don’t have a partner and want to lure suitors.
“It’s a lively group,” Dorman said, laughing. “Maybe it’s because of the Viagra.”
Bartenders say business is brisk and that they are busy most nights.
While it is often portrayed as a wealthy enclave, the Villages is decidedly middle class, where drink specials can still determine the way a night will go. Homes may sell for more than $1 million, but they can also sell for around $100,000. Professionals from all fields are here, including teachers and those who had blue-collar jobs that paid well despite not requiring a college degree.
Many see their good fortune in terms of self-reliance, applying their own experience to the wider public debate about the role of government.
Republican Bill Buyrum, a retired lawyer from Indianapolis, said people like him are able to afford to live here because of the responsible way they have lived.
“It was workers who saved their money, planned for the future, and didn’t have this attitude that government should be a chaperone all their lives,” Buyrum said.
That’s delusional thinking, say Democrats.
“Everyone here is so self-absorbed,” says Larry Shipley, the president of the Democratic Club. “But it’s not even that. They want to behave like people they aren’t, while they support people they want to be.”