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Among Florida Retirees, Anger Over Health Care Reform

Clermont, Fla. – Mike Glantz has never been particularly politically involved. But the 70-something decided he was bothered enough by what’s going on in Washington to organize a “tea party” meeting in this central Florida community.

He booked time in Jenkins Auditorium for March 29 and set up about 40 chairs. By the time the evening was over, the room with a capacity of 192 was filled. “We were flabbergasted,” he says. “It was overwhelming.”

Clermont, a graying community that falls into Patchwork Nation’s “Emptying Nests” category, was never Obama country: Barack Obama captured only about 43 percent of the vote in surrounding Lake County in 2008. But now, the mood toward Washington has turned especially sour down here. The economy is very poor, making everyone uneasy, and the two communities for seniors in this town, Kings Ridge and Summit Greens, are up in arms over health-care reform.

Residents wanted to give Mr. Obama a chance when he got into office, Mr. Glantz says. “But now, everyone here is afraid,” he says. “If [Obama] can do this in just one year, what can he do in three more?”

“Everyone” isn’t really afraid, of course. But Clermont offers a close-up look at the concerns in at least one “Emptying Nest” in Florida. The situation here suggests some seriously motivated voters in November.

The political breakdown

Obama did surprisingly well in the “Emptying Nests” overall in 2008. He evenly split the vote in this community type, which usually leans Republican. However, every indication is that the Democrats will have a much harder time in these places in 2010.

The “Emptying Nest” that includes Clermont also includes The Villages, a 77,000-person retirement community northeast of Clermont. Here, the tea party movement is already strong: They’ve been meeting for months now, and every Monday some 300 members gather to organize and plan for November.

In general, Florida’s retirement communities are very conservative politically. The Villages, for one, is an essential campaign stop for any Republican candidate swinging through Florida or seeking statewide office. Both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney came through the community on their recent book tours and drew thousands.

Still, the interest in politics in the “Emptying Nests” seems to have grown with health-care reform.

“Basically, the retirement communities feel like they are being [cheated]. They are taking $500 billion out of Medicare and giving it to someone else,” Glantz says. He’s referring to the $455 billion in Medicare cuts in the bill.

The outlook

Our recent analysis of Obama’s approval ratings showed a dismal score in the “Emptying Nests” – about 33 percent, which was second lowest of the 12 community types.

What happens in the “Emptying Nests” will probably play a big role in Florida’s vote this fall. The state has 10 “Emptying Nest” counties, with a concentration in the politically important central area of the state.

But even in Clermont, where people are witnessing the anger up close, there are a variety of views.

After Congress passed health-care reform, a doctor in the nearby community of Mount Dora (also in Lake County) posted a sign on his door that read “If you voted for Obama, seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your health care begin right now, not in four years.”

People in the area are divided on his actions. While many simply called his sign free speech, others were less sanguine. Some in town have even suggested that it may end up hurting the campaign of his wife, who is seeking a seat on the Lake County Commission.

Ray Goodgame, a Clermont City Council member who lives in the Kings Ridge community, calls the tea partyers “a bunch of irritated Republicans.”

But the anger, he says, goes beyond that. “People here were happy with the medical care they were getting. They are mad and they are very vocal about it.”

How mad and how vocal? Glantz has booked more space for two more tea party meetings at the auditorium in Clermont.

This entry is cross-posted from the Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation site and is part of the NewsHour’s Spotlight City coverage. Read Chinni’s earlier blog from Clermont here.

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