Ann Romney connected in Dem stronghold

August 29, 2012
Maria Hernandez delivers a sandwich at the West Tampa Sandwich shop. (Lucian Perkins, Washington Post)

Ann Romney connected: That’s the message from one small corner of the West Tampa Sandwich Shop. Wednesday’s lunch special: Puerco Asada, Moro y Yuca. A sign behind the counter says “Parking for Cubans Only: All Others Will Be Towed.” The restaurant is unprepossessing on the outside and rather loud and cramped within, but with thousands of photographs of civic leaders and local residents on the walls, it’s a place where you can always gin up a discussion about politics.

West Tampa is the historic Cuban neighborhood across the Hillsborough River from Ybor City. It’s a Democratic stronghold, traditionally, though like so much of Florida it’s seen a surge in Republican sentiment. Florida is a swing state and Hillsborough is a swing county; President Obama will want to carry West Tampa by a large margin.

Marco and Idalis Rosario said they watched the GOP convention throughout Tuesday night and offered a rave review. They didn’t vote four years ago. This time they were a bit wary of Mitt Romney. They said they’re coming around.

“What I like about the conventions is you get to know the candidates more personally,” Idalis said. “You come to see the person and get to see if you like them as a person.”

And she likes Ann Romney.

“I think she’s a tough person,” she said. Being tough is important to her: Her husband is battling cancer. The Romneys have endured medical crises and so are she and her husband. “Before he was diagnosed with cancer, I was a softie.”

One table away, Hector and Martha Vila gave thumbs-up for the GOP show. Hector, 81, a former Budweiser plant supervisor, loved the Chris Christie speech. “He was dynamic.”

Martha Vila said of Ann Romney, “She stayed in touch with reality. I could relate to her life. And I think she related to our life.”

Hector thinks Romney will win this fall. Martha is more skeptical.

“Many of the Spanish people are old Democrats,” she said. “They vote not so much for Obama as for the party. They’re still tied into that wives’ tale – if you’re poor you  have to be a Democrat.”

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