State Politics

Central Florida voters excited, exhausted over governor’s race

Seminole County Elections Superviser Michael Ertel processes absentee ballots for this year’s election.
Seminole County Elections Superviser Michael Ertel processes absentee ballots for this year’s election. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Eighty-six-year-old Dottie Anthony pulled up to the Seminole County elections headquarters in her lime green Volkswagen Beetle this week with a singular mission: to cast a vote for Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“I had to vote,” the retired Republican said after submitting her ballot. “This election could be close.”

Voters in Seminole County and neighboring Orange County know they could play a pivotal role in determining Florida’s next governor. They live along the I-4 corridor, a storied political battleground filled with old Florida families, emerging Hispanic communities and 60,000 college students.

“Everybody knows that the Panhandle is Republican, South Florida is Democratic, and that leaves the I-4 corridor to tip the scales,” Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.

Which way the region will swing remains to be seen. Interviews with residents in both counties offer a snapshot of an electorate that is enthusiastic and exhausted, addled and appalled.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” said Ana Ramcharan, a 33-year-old registered Democrat. “I’m not impressed either way.”

The candidates’ schedules show the region is crucial. Scott was in Seminole County on Wednesday and Thursday, and stopped at an Orlando radio station before leaving town. Democratic candidate Charlie Crist was in Orlando on Friday. He plans to spend the night before Election Day at the University of Central Florida with former President Bill Clinton.

“We want to win in places like Orange,” Crist campaign adviser Steve Schale said. “We need to keep Republican turnout down in places like Seminole.”

Seminole is a fast-growing county of bustling suburban cities and wide swaths of natural land. It is reliably Republican.

Voters in Seminole chose Scott over Democratic candidate Alex Sink by six percentage points in 2010. They selected Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by the same margin in 2012.

“We’ve voted for the Republican nominee [for president] all the way back to FDR,” Elections Supervisor Michael Ertel said.

Still, there are plenty of registered Democrats in communities like Sanford, where more than half of residents identify themselves as black or Hispanic. And nearly a quarter of all Seminole voters are not affiliated with either party.

So far, turnout has been strong, with more than 64,000 people (or 24 percent of registered voters) having voted early or absentee as of Thursday. Republicans have cast as many ballots as Democrats and independent voters combined.

Those Republicans include Gerry Sorensen, a 61-year-old pawnbroker who made his pick for governor at the public library in Lake Mary. Sorensen said he had the economy in mind when he filled in the bubble next to Scott’s name.

“He’s made strides,” Sorensen said, praising Scott’s support for small businesses. “He can do better now that he’s gotten his feet wet.”

Frank McCann, a 64-year-old retired water plant operator, had a more difficult time choosing. He disagrees with Crist’s pro-choice stance on abortion, but he doesn’t like the incumbent, either.

“He should be in jail,” McCann said, noting that Scott’s former healthcare company Columbia/HCA paid $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud.

So McCann, a registered Republican, went in a different direction: He voted for Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie.

“What else was I going to do?” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Early voting sites in Orange County — home to Walt Disney World, the busy city of Orlando and a more diverse population — drew a more liberal crowd.

Orange is practically a guarantee for Democrats. Voters in 2012 chose Obama by more than 18 percentage points. Sink carried Orange County in 2010 by 11 percentage points.

As of Thursday, more than 142,000 residents had cast votes. Of the 47,000 people that voted at early-voting sites, about 47 percent were Democrats, 33 percent were Republicans and 20 percent were “other.”

Independent voter William Beasley made sure to cast his vote for Crist. Beasley, a retiree who used to haul oversized equipment, said he viewed Crist’s propensity to change his positions as an asset.

“His focus is based on what the people want,” Beasley said. “That’s not flip-flopping, that’s governing.”

Jay Bourne, a taxi dispatcher and registered Democrat, also voted for Crist, albeit reluctantly.

“I voted for the lesser of two evils,” he said.

Not Rosa Riveros. The retired school custodian changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican earlier this year in anticipation of the general election.

Riveros, who is originally from Peru, used a Spanish saying to describe her problem with the Democratic Party’s candidate: “Ave de mucha pluma, poca carne.”

Literally, a bird of many feathers, but with little meat.

There was one common lament among voters in Orange and Seminole counties: The contest between Scott and Crist had gotten too ugly.

Alfred Josey, a 33-year-old Democrat who voted early, said the bitterness of the campaigns had made its way into a recent sermon at the 17th Street Church of Christ in Sanford.

“The preacher was talking about how negative things have been,” he said. The congregants prayed for peace and civility.

Karin Wyandt, a 61-year-old caregiver from Altamonte Springs, said she had grown tired of the candidates bashing each other on TV.

Wyandt, a registered Democrat, said she hasn’t voted since the 1996 contest between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole — and doesn’t plan to do so this year.

“I don’t trust either of them,” she said of the candidates.

Jack Kwon, a 57-year-old accountant and registered Republican, also has no plans to cast a ballot this year.

He had a long list of complaints about Scott, including his refusal to take federal money for high-speed rail. He believes Crist is a perennial flip-flopper who cannot be trusted.

“I don't like either,” Kwon said while walking by an early voting site with his son in Lake Mary. “I like Jeb Bush.”

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

By the numbers

Orange County

Voter registration, Sept. 2014

Republican: 205,298 (29 percent)

Democrat: 303,060 (42 percent)

Other: 16,989 (3 percent)

No party affiliation: 196,784 (27 percent)

Total: 722,131

Source: Florida Division of Elections

Presidential Election 2012:

Republican Mitt Romney 40.4%

Democrat Barack Obama: 58.6%

Gubernatorial Election 2010:

Republican Rick Scott: 42.9%

Democrat Alex Sink: 54.0%

Presidential Election 2008:

Republican John McCain: 40.4%

Democrat Barack Obama: 59.0%

Seminole County

Voter registration, Sept. 2014:

Republican: 105,082 (40 percent)

Democrat: 87,995 (33 percent)

Other: 7,593 (3 percent)

No party affiliation: 64,755 (24 percent)

Total: 265,425

Source: Florida Division of Elections

Presidential Election 2012:

Republican Mitt Romney 52.57%

Democrat Barack Obama 46.12%

Gubernatorial Election 2010:

Republican Rick Scott: 51.54%

Democrat Alex Sink: 44.80%

Presidential Election 2008:

Republican John McCain: 50.90%

Democrat Barack Obama: 48.12%

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