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Democrats Vie For Retiree Votes In Republican Stronghold, The Villages

Jerry and Patty Ragen recently moved to The Villages. Here, they stand in front of the Democratic field office in Wildwood.
Jerry and Patty Ragen recently moved to The Villages. Here, they stand in front of the Democratic field office in Wildwood.

President Trump's Friday return to America’s largest retirement community, The Villages, signals one of the most important keys to his hopes for another Florida victory. But there are growing signs of an anti-Trump resistance, as many seniors on both sides are very fired up about this election.

“We just got here last Friday from Eugene, Oregon. We drove cross-country!” said retired teacher Jerry Ragan and his wife Patty, speaking in unison. They moved to The Villages just last week and are among the newest residents of what's called "Florida's friendliest hometown.

Jerry Ragan’s first impression?

“Well, if we’re talking politics, there’s a lot of Trump signs all over the place. So we’re proud to put a few Biden signs out to kind of even up the game a little bit. But we love it here,” he said.

Politics is serious business at this affluent 55-and-over community that covers parts of three counties north of Orlando, and so is voting. The turnout in Sumter County four years ago was more than 84%, among the highest in the state. Nearby Lake and Marion counties weren’t far behind.

In that 2016 election, Donald Trump overwhelmed Hillary Clinton by nearly a 3-to-1 margin here. That helped Trump pull out a narrow Florida victory that was crucial to his surprise election.

Patti Ragan is already involved with the Sumter County Democratic Party and she’s hopeful that former Vice President Joe Biden will defeat Trump.

“I’m optimistic. I don’t trust Trump. I didn’t think he that won fair and square in 2016, Ragan said. “Coming from New York originally, and experiencing Trump up there, I didn’t like him then. So for him to be our president was just absolutely ridiculous.”

The Ragans are both from New York City, so they’re used to hearing rough language. Jerry Ragan spent 42 years in education as a teacher, coach and principal.

“Education is not just the people in the classroom. It’s all of us,” Ragan said. “And if we’re satisfied as parents and educators with the tenor of this country, then we deserve a guy like Donald Trump,” he said. “If we don’t want hat type of angst and constant 24-hour drama, then we need to make a change. We need to stand up and make a change.”

Around the vast expanse that is The Villages, you can see yard signs that say “Republicans for Biden.” Tom O’Connor has one. He’s an 86-year-old former owner of a fireworks store in Indiana who said he has always voted Republican – until now.

“I don’t care for him to represent me,” O’Connor said. “I wouldn’t want him as a business partner. I wouldn’t care for him as a neighbor. I certainly wouldn’t want him as a friend, and I’m disappointed in how he represents me around the world.”

The Villages is accustomed to getting plenty of media attention as every election draws near. In the past couple of weeks, an Associated Press story about a parade of pro-Biden golf carts got widespread play in the U.S. and across the world. And when ABC’s World News Tonight wanted to focus on the senior vote, the network naturally came here.

Every poll shows Joe Biden solidly ahead of Donald Trump among older voters. That makes The Villages more important than ever, for Donald Trump.

Copyright 2020 WFSU

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.