“What I want are common-sense, pragmatic approaches to our very real problems, which are being grandstanded and marginalized by the rhetoric used to characterize them,” he said recently while sipping a coffee at a Panera Bread cafe here. “I would like honest dialogue. That’s what I’m looking for.” Bremmer said he’s leaning toward Republican Mitt Romney but remained unhappy with the lack of solutions from either side.
As a group, suburban voters are more affluent, more educated and more female than the population generally. Although anxious about the economy, they survived the economic crash better than their fellow citizens in rural areas, better than blue-collar workers and better than city dwellers.
It’s here in the nation’s swing suburbs that President Obama hopes to build a margin that will help bring him 270 electoral votes. His campaign aides say the grass-roots organizing they initiated in 2008 works especially well among suburban voters, who build off existing PTA, church and playground relationships. And it is here that Romney is counting on disenchantment with the president and the economy to swing voters his way.
The battle for these voters is being fought in places such as Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties outside Denver, the suburbs of Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio, and the Orlando area in Florida — and they are likely to, again, shape the election’s outcome in November.
Call them Panera voters, a wide swath of caramel-latte-swilling, hormone-free-chicken-munching, WiFi-surfing suburban voters in a few swing states who have experienced the economic crisis mostly as anxiety rather than panic.
They still eat out, but they don’t eat junk food, and they are looking for a bargain. On any given day, they can be found flipping open their laptops alongside their roasted artichoke turkey paninis and bowls of French onion soup at Panera cafes that have emerged across the country as a cultural and consumer touchstone of the new suburbia.
St. Louis-based Panera Bread is a burgeoning part of the restaurant sector called fast casual, which has boomed during the economic downturn. Like suburbanites themselves, Panera has proved somewhat recession-proof, opening nearly 300 cafes since the end of 2008, including 50 in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Colorado.
The chain has thrived on the idea that despite the recession, plenty of people are still able to pay $8 for the right kind of sandwich in warm, inviting surroundings.