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State of the Union isn’t the hottest topic on Main Street Sarasota

From left, Michael Murphy, 24; Jessi Smith 24; and Erin Murphy, 26, drink coffee and talk on Main Street in Sarasota, Fla. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

On Main Street, at the sidewalk tables between Orange and Lemon avenues, no one seemed to be making any plans Tuesday afternoon to watch the State of the Union Address. Bulletin from the real America: Most people are not political junkies.

They may vote in November, but in January they’re focused on their iced lattes, or their lap poodles, or their job hunts. Or some distraction. Florida may be the biggest swing state, with 29 electoral votes, but a brief unscientific survey here reminds that it’s also a land of sunshine, beaches, good times all around, and the daily jaunt through life may not coincide with watching Fox News Channel or MSNBC or reading Politico.

Consider the seven young friends gathered around a table outside the Pastry Art bakery. They were drinking coffee and smoking Camels and American Spirits. Any pundit would have sized them up as supporters of President Obama. But they were no more likely to watch his speech later than to sign up for polka lessons.

“I don’t have cable,” said Michael Murphy, 24, a musician who has been working to boost the music scene in town. When informed that the national address would be on broadcast television — not to mention streamed on the Internet – he said, “Probably still wouldn’t watch it. I listen to NPR now and then.”

Scott Braun, 26, a photographer, said being nonpolitical makes sense in a heavily conservative area: “It’s more of a survival thing than anything else. To be overly concerned with politics would be kind of a waste for us.”

“There is zero instant gratification,” said Matt Gunter, 22.

Erin Murphy, Michael’s 26-year-old sister, said the political squabbles reported in the news come off like a football game — an endless Super Bowl. She thinks politics is full of corruption.

“It’s just so many levels of messed up, you don’t know where to start,” she said.

Scott Elkins, 21, who will soon deploy with the Army National Guard, said he is leaning toward voting Republican this fall: “When you vote Republican, chances are the pay in the military goes up.”

Downtown Sarasota is one of the few places where one can reliably turn up Democrats in the Republican Riviera that is Southwest Florida. It was no accident that the Republicans fighting for votes in the Florida primary visited this part of the state on Tuesday. Among the conservatives on hand in the afternoon were David James, 80, David Weiss, 78, and Tom Drews, 75, who gather regularly to shoot the breeze as they lounge in stuffed chairs near the bakery’s front door.

They worry that Newt Gingrich is a loose cannon. They wonder whether Mitt Romney has what it takes to make tough decision. About Obama, though, there are no doubts — and no chance that their view would be changed by anything the president said Tuesday night.

“He’s a disaster,” Weiss said.

Dean Miller, 62, sitting with his wife, Patti, at an outdoor table, said they would try to watch the speech but had a busy evening planned — it was their 30th wedding anniversary. Both are Obama supporters. He said he wishes the president would be more forceful in asserting his accomplishments. He’s worried that some voters who are Jewish, as he is, have turned against Obama because of a perceived anti-Israel attitude.

Striding down the block came two sure-bet Obama voters: Jennifer Perez, 31, an auditor, and Gloria Olazabel, 39, a finance analyst. They said they would watch the speech, and had some thoughts about what the president could do differently.

“The only thing I would change with Obama is to be a bit firm. More aggressive,” Perez said.

“Man up,” Olazabel said.

“Put a little spice in it,” Perez added.

Inside the bakery, Keely Carney, 23, tapped on her laptop, looking for a job and hoping to enroll at a local college specializing in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Her home page is the Huffington Post’s Health and Wellness section. She’s very wired, she said, and hopes someday to be a “social media queen.” She thinks she’ll probably vote for Obama but isn’t sure.

“Possibly. I don’t really know anything about the other candidates, so I have to know more,” she said.

She didn’t plan to watch Obama’s speech. For the usual reason.

“I don’t have cable.”


Fact checking the 2012 State of the Union address

State of the Union 2012: Obama speech full text

In State of the Union, Obama warns economic disparity threatens middle class

Republican reaction to Obama’s State of the Union address

Full video: Obama’s State of the Union address

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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