The boom burbs are a signature of the Tampa area and of the politically critical Tampa-toOrlando-to-Daytona Beach strip known as the I-4 Corridor. Florida’s solar-powered real estate industry went into a frenzy during the housing boom, carving cul-de-sacs in pastureland and creating from scratch huge bedroom communities pocked with cypress swamps and sinkholes.
“I moved to Florida 16 years ago. This street didn’t exist. It was a one-lane road,” said Tom Banks, one of the Gingrich folks waving the signs at the intersection outside the Shops at Wiregrass.
This is where presidencies can be won — or lost. The state has 29 electoral votes, as many as New York. It’s by far the largest of the swing states. It’s no accident that the Republican National Committee chose Tampa for its summer convention. On Monday, the men vying to be the party’s nominee will debate on a stage here ahead of the Jan. 31 primary.
The boom burbs pose a particular challenge for presidential candidates. The voters are often independent ticket-splitters, as transient ideologically as they are geographically.
The folks in the boom burbs also have a reputation among political operatives for being hard to reach. The rap on them is that they go home and vanish into their domestic lives. They don’t tend to vote in local elections. They’ll vote in a presidential race but aren’t likely to attend a rally or a town-hall meeting — not that there are many town halls around here.
“It’s a get-in-the-garage and shut-the-door type of community,” said Nolan Ryon, 25, as he strolled through an outdoor art festival at the mall. He’s a Republican but undecided.
“Everyone just wants privacy,” said Vicki Wise, walking with her husband, Jim. They don’t talk much with their neighbors, she said, and certainly don’t talk politics.
“They went to school somewhere else, they got married somewhere else, they raised their kids somewhere else, they spent most of their lives somewhere else. How to get new arrivals to feel a sense of participation in Florida is a challenge,” said former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham (D).
While running for governor, and later while in office, he tried to connect with voters by doing “workdays” in which he’d pick up trash or chop onions in a restaurant kitchen, or something to that effect. He remembers Lawton Chiles winning a U.S. Senate race in 1970 by walking all across the state. But times have changed. There were fewer than 3 million people in Florida in 1950. That’s about the same number who moved here between 2000 and 2010.