Swing state voters sound off
Photographer Robert Wallis and writer Jennifer Wallace crisscrossed the 'swing state' of Florida on before the U.S. presidential elections. They spoke with voters about how they planned to vote (or not) and what issues were important to them.
“America's got to get back on track,” says Connie St John, a principal administrator in a Florida elementary school who was tailgating at a Florida State University football game.. “We can't have four more years of the same. Romney's refreshing. But the media tells us all the time Obama will win, and nothing but negative things about Romney. ABC, NBC, it's just nothing but negative. Americans should be told the truth. Then an intelligent decision could be made.
“All this money spent on elections - if they put that against our debt, it would be so much better. After all, George Washington didn't have advertisements.”
(Interviews by Jennifer Wallace and Robert Wallis)
“We went nowhere in the last four years,” says Jonathan Andreas, 31, seen here with Rachel McGrath, 24, on Boynton Beach, Fla. “It's time for somebody new in the White House to take care of business at home.”
McGrath adds: “I agree that we need some kind of change. The Republicans are conservative on social issues but that won't inform my decision, I only care about the economy.”
“As a working mother with two kids the most important thing to me is my job, to support my family and protecting my retirement pension so I don't have to depend on my kids when I'm old,” says licensed practicing nurse Norrissie Howard-Brown on Boynton Beach. “I don't want to work for a long time and end up with nothing. I voted for the president in 2008 and I'm definitely voting for him again. Romney doesn't represent me and my family. We don't fit into his class, anyone can see that, even Stevie Wonder. The kind of cars we drive, where we live and where we go to school, it's a different class than Romney's.”
“Why are the Republicans not addressing the fact that Obama is a communist?” asks Dave Heimbold, chairman of the St. Augustine Tea Party, “There are just a few people with courage to tell it like it is.
“The 'Forward' sign (used by the Obama campaign) is a rallying cry from the universal communists and fascists. People all over the world - Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Cuba - are very sensitive to this word. Communists in China - Lenin, Marx, Castro. It's recognised by everyone on the Left with the exception of this generation of Americans. It's Obama's slogan, with his personal logo in the middle. Do we need any more evidence than this that this man is calling socialists all around the world?”
“I lived in Azerbaijan which was part of the former Soviet Union, so I understand what communism really is,” says Jessica, a former Peace Corps volunteer, seen here debating a Tea Party member in St. Augustine.
“They (the Tea Party) are just ignorant, and doing an injustice. They say that communism equals socialized healthcare, but in that case all of Europe is communist because it has socialized healthcare, and it's a more advanced health system than ours. Communism means much more than that. The children don't have any creativity because they just have to memorize things from books. There's absolutely no freedom of speech; you're put in jail if you post a comment on Facebook. I saw this during my time in the Peace Corps. They would say of course that the government shouldn't support the Peace Corps. They'll say that the Peace Corps is Obama's SS. I didn't support Obama last time, but I don't believe in the Tea Party's craziness.”
55-year-old Anthony Browne is a bassist in a reggae band called Browne Dread. Originally from Dominican Republic, he came to the US 13 years ago and is now an American citizen. He says, “I'll vote for Obama. Republicans are the party for the rich people. Obama feels the middle class pain. When he talks, he's genuine; he's got a genuine spirit. In 2008, I heard him in Miami, at the hockey stadium. It was so full I couldn't get in but I watched it live on a big screen outside. It was wonderful. A black president. The country finally chose somebody who was right.
“The Republicans keep blocking him from doing what he wants to do. If the two parties could just work together to make things a little better, it would be good, but the Republicans are not doing that, working for the middle class. If you leave politics aside, people are united. In a tornado or a hurricane, people help each other. But when politics come in, it's a different story. They do anything just to get elected.”
“I'm really excited. I've just registered to vote,” says 18-year-old high school student Shelby Povtak, skateboarding at St Augustine beach. “I've heard my vote's really important, especially in Florida because it's a swing state. The choice is between Obama who has socialist principles and Romney, who doesn't. The key issue is to protect capitalism, which if Obama is re-elected might not happen.
“If I could, my vote would be libertarian. Less government is better. I'm taking US government in class, so we discuss all the issues. I'm going to vote for Romney. I want to be a small business. I want to start a clothing line. On international issues, I don't know. It's not really my business, so I try to stay out of it. I will just vote on how the policies affect me and my career goals.”
“We're sticking with Obama, the devil you know rather than the one you don't know,” says Dosek Denny, left, with Hazel Cottril in Lantana, Fla. “Every time Romney's on TV. he changes his mind or his platform. You can't trust him. Today he's on one side and tomorrow on the other. And he doesn't give any details on what he's going to do. Obama wasn't together for the first debate but it hasn't changed our mind.”
Cottrill adds: “I work for a credit union. If you work in a financial institution you can see the difference from when Obama took office and now. People are borrowing again and we are giving loans again for cars and houses. The economy is improving.”
24-year-old Kristin Zatto is a nutrition student at Florida Atlantic University. She says, “I'm for Romney because I don't believe in redistribution from the wealthy and giving it to the lower classes. I haven't seen Obama do anything I liked in the last four years. Romney is a businessman. All his businesses are successful so I think he can run the country. He also looked very professional in the debate.”
“Romney does not strike a chord with me,” says Susan Bickel, a retired travel agent, outside her home in Appalachicola, Fla. “I can't see how someone who makes $20 million will understand how I live. He earned $20 million and he paid hardly anything in income tax. I know other rich people do this with their offshore money, but it's just not right. He's not the average Joe.”
“Then he said those things about how ridiculous all the middle-class people are (the 47 percent) and that was a final straw for me. I wouldn't feel comfortable sitting in a room with Romney because he couldn't care less what I think. Obama is a down-to-earth person who can talk to anybody and will listen to you, even if he doesn't necessarily agree with you.”
“I like Obama as a person but I don't like his politics,” says 77-year-old Carrie Johnson of St. Augustine. “I'm a Republican. I was raised in a household that believed in paying your own way. You should accept help only with the idea of paying it back. I get food stamps. I don't like it. It's a handout.
“The day when I or my children get a windfall, I'm going to give back every cotton-picking penny. The child thinks, ‘We'll get welfare, the government owes me'. The government doesn't owe you a damn thing. All my children believe in working. I won't tolerate no leeches. If you need help, I will help you. But if I find you are using me, I'll kick your butt out. No free rides, you have to sweat."
“I voted for Obama last time because Palin would have set back women's rights by about 100 years,” says Jaime Giroux, a business consultant whose Republican relatives tease her about 'organic fruit' and 'believing in socialism'. “Republicans don't know what they're at in respect of women. I'm a green consultant. I believe you shouldn't drill, you should have a self-sustaining environment, you shouldn't go raping and pillaging the planet.
“But Obama's disappointed me with what he's done as president. I'm basically in the center but I lean more to the left than the right. I just wish the politicians would tell us what they’re really going to do and be honest. I mean, I’m a huge fan of college football; I’ve never been able to follow NFL. College football, they’re out there playing because they love sport. But NFL is such a business. Politics is like that for me. It’s kind of shitty saying it but football’s like politics.”
“No one thinks about the American people,” says Armando Rivas Senior, seen here with his son, Armando Junior, on Boynton Beach. “We are spending $100 billion a year on foreign wars. Instead of spending here at home on small businesses to create jobs and make the economy thrive we are borrowing money from China to try and fix the problems in other countries like Afghanistan.
“There are very few politicians in this era who really care for the welfare of American citizens. Both political parties make promises to get elected that they don’t deliver on. But I voted for Obama last time, partly because he stood for a new racial tolerance, and I will stay with the devil I know than one we don't know. But we should stop playing cops for the whole world; it only makes people hate us more. We should just protect our own borders. Let them come and strike us here and we will fight on our own soil, but not in faraway countries. This country belongs to us and we need to get back to thinking like the founding fathers: 'government by the people and for the people.’”
Former New Yorkers Frank and Florence Watson were leaving the West Palm Beach gun and knife show. Talking about the upcoming presidential election Frank says, “The Obama administration has done everything they can to destroy jobs. America can have all the oil it wants without importing one drop. It's in the ground but the entire Democratic Party is blocking drilling with all their regulations.”
Florence says, “Have you seen 2016? (a film purporting to show the truth about Obama). Go see it. He is not who he says he is. It shows his roots - growing up with Bill Ayers, the anarchist. Obama is a socialist at best and a communist at worst. Years ago I read the Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher - how she privatized industry and put England back on its feet. We are going in the opposite direction with government takeovers of everything.”
Frank adds, “GM is the prime example - Obama turned it over to his cronies in the auto workers union. It should have been allowed to go bankrupt to then renegotiate its position with the unions.”
Eric Freeman is a field service technician for heavy equipment company Caterpillar. Talking about the upcoming presidential election, Freeman says, “It’s (politics) a losing battle. I don't vote. Nobody's worth anything. They're both bull$97#ers.”
Melissa and Carl Woodroffe were out shopping in St. Augustine. “We are Democrats and support Obama,” says Carl. “The House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans. Whenever Obama puts a bill forward, they stop it just for the sake of it.
“I hope the American public is smart enough to realize that he's trying to do what he can. If not, then the country's going to go back to where it was eight years ago. Florida has a lot of seniors who should be worried about healthcare but they've voted Republican for the last 60 years and they're never going to vote anything else. They only watch Fox News. They base all their news on one channel. I watch MSNBC and CNN and local news and 60 Minutes. They seem very unbiased.”
College students Brandon Ferguson, left, Kailyn Johns and Daniel Cavanaugh were on Boynton Beach, Fla. when asked about the upcoming presidential elections. “I was raised Republican and I'll vote for Romney although I would have preferred Ron Paul,” says Ferguson, “Hopefully Romney will help fix the economy and get us out of debt. The president has had four years to make a difference and that's enough time.”
“The president isn't going to change things in one term,” says Johns, “The economy is important but social equality and personal freedoms are what I'm going to make my choice on, including a woman's right to choose and gay rights. Romney represents an old view of morality that I don't agree with.”
“Obama care is screwed up and the debate (first presidential debate) was an eye opener for me’” says Cavanaugh, “Romney knew what he was talking about. Obama kept looking down while Romney gave a full-on straight attack.”
“We're [expletive] with the guy we've got now and we'll be [expletive] if we get the new guy,” says Tom Ward, an ex-United States Marine who served in Vietnam from 1970-72, speaking in Lantana , Fla., “But if you want jobs, not welfare, you gotta vote Republican. I'm not so worried about myself, I'm retired, but it's for my kids that I'll vote for Romney.”
“I didn't vote last time, I wasn't that interested,” says Mandy Markham, an event planner in Lake Worth, Fla., here with her daughter Juliana, “But now I care, because we are worried about the bottom dollar. We might become lower class rather than middle class. Obama made all these promises about the middle class but he didn't deliver. I'm still undecided but leaning towards Romney.”
(Interviews by Jennifer Wallace and Robert Wallis)