In Tampa, in love but politically at odds

November 5, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. -- The smell of fried plaintains and puerco asado and black beans and rice filled the lunchtime air afternoon inside La Teresita Cafeteria, a bustling institution in the heavily Cuban area along Tampa's Columbus Avenue. The customers sitting shoulder to shoulder on bar stools reflected the diversity of this key corner of Florida – blacks and whites and Hispanics. As many conversations unfolded in Spanish as in English.

On one side of the bar, sipping café con leche and arguing good-naturedly
like the long-time couple they are, Joan Burpee and Raymond Miller knew
they would go different directions in the voting booth on Tuesday.

“He’s a Republican; I’m a Democrat,” said Burpee, 79.

For her, social issues matter most. Gay marriage. Women’s rights.

“The Republican party is going to take us back 100 years,” she says, as he
sighs.

For him, it’s more important to get the economy on more solid footing, to
fix the tax code, to do away with what he sees as a welfare state on which
too many citizens depend. Too many people “rely on checks,” says Miller, 67. “Not enough people are working.”

They go back and forth, back and forth, hitting all the talking points that
have been beamed across the airwaves here for months.

“I’m going to get my two cents in,” she says.

“You already got your two cents in!” he shouts.

They know they are going to cancel each other’s votes out on Tuesday. They don’t mind. He slides over and puts an arm around her shoulder.

“She still loves me,” he says, and she nods.

The political views up and down the bar are just as split. The three men eating Cuban sandwiches down by the to-go counter? Romney, Romney, Romney. Time for change, they say. A 35-year-old woman named Naaray Rodriguez, who is sharing lunch with her grandmother? Obama.

Rodriguez got laid off from her job as an administrative assistant in 2010. She and her husband have been getting by on a single income in recent years. Still, she says, the president did the best job he could with the hand he was dealt.

 “I’m sure,” she says, “things will get better.”

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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