“Obama broke all of his promises,” said Sanjai Stesty, 28, a black voter raised in Miami who now lives in Orlando. Stesty, a nurse, said Obama and Romney both are too close to Wall Street. He plans to sit out this election.
To reverse any loss of enthusiasm, Democrats look to those such as Lynette Acosta, a 34-year-old Obama campaign volunteer with Puerto Rican roots, to help turn out the vote.
When she meets uncommitted voters, she tells them about her own family. Her mother was raised in public housing in Puerto Rico. Her parents took on a government-backed loan to buy a house. A Pell Grant paid for college. Even now, her brother and his wife go without health insurance because their part-time jobs don’t offer it. Their children rely on Medicaid. Acosta, whose living room in her spacious home serves as a volunteer phone bank twice a week, tells people that her family couldn’t have made it without some help. “In my family, it took three generations to get here,” Acosta said.
Republicans say they have a strong story for voters, too. The Romney campaign in Florida believes it has rebuilt the campaign apparatus that it says let them down four years ago. And it says it has a message that’s more attractive to Florida voters who’ve seen rough economic times, including a housing crisis.
“We are currently capable of not only encouraging our Republican base to turn out, but we’re also capable of taking our much stronger message and putting it into every precinct in the state of Florida,” said Doster of the Romney campaign.
“The next four years with Obama? I don’t even want to think about how bad it could be,” said Dan Pressler, 49, a Republican from Pinellas County who was watching one of the presidential debates at a bar in Clearwater.
Underlying just about every discussion with voters is fear.
Many worry that something hard-earned could be taken away. Frothed up by millions in campaign advertising, voters hear mixed messages every time they turn on the radio, drive past a billboard, or watch television. They hear from both sides that Medicare is under threat, that their taxes might go up, and that women might lose some rights.
“This is the first time I’ve ever followed politics this closely,” admitted James Layton, 64, a Republican who was eating lunch with his son at the Strawberry Hut in Plant City, a farm town east of Tampa. Layton said he began paying attention to Romney because he also is a Mormon. But it’s Romney’s background as a businessman that most appeals to Layton, who owns a landscaping business. Layton said he is concerned when Obama talks about the middle class, because he thinks that actually means helping out the poor rather than small-business owners.
Obama “just hasn’t done the job,” Layton said. “He promised lots of things and put us in worse shape than we’ve been. We’ve got to have a business-type president right now, and that is what Romney is.”
Like many in the swing state, Donnie Smith, 54, of Polk City, defies easy categorization. Smith lives in a conservative and mostly rural stretch of the I-4 corridor that voted for Romney, but he’s a loyal Democrat who belongs to the Boilermakers Union. Smith, who during his own treatment for throat cancer met patients reliant on Medicare and Medicaid, fears that the neediest people will lose out if Romney is elected. He has health insurance through his union and plans to vote again for Obama.
Smith, leaning against his pickup on a boat ramp one recent afternoon, reflected on his life while he was waiting with his nephew for catfish to bite in Mudd Lake in rural Polk County. “Am I better off than I was four years ago? Yes. Yes I am,” Smith said. “I go to work every day, I see Romney signs, and I want to tear them down.”