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How Florida voters are thinking ahead of Election Day

Florida is yet again proving to be a swing-state election battleground. How do voters in the Tampa and St. Petersburg area see the midterms and other pressing issues? Judy Woodruff talks to five residents, ranging in age and political persuasion.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I sat down this weekend with five voters in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. And a note to viewers: We met before the magnitude of the terrible shootings in Pittsburgh was clear. We gathered at a popular meeting place called the Oxford Exchange. The voters ranged in age from 27 to 75.

    Jake Hoffman is a Republican who owns a digital media company. Trevor Mallory is a Democrat who works investing in affordable housing. Sandy Rief is a registered Republican, but has been voting Democratic lately. He's a tax attorney. Liz Gutierrez is a Democrat who runs a nonprofit. And Cherie Denham is a Republican who's employed by a law firm.

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    This election cycle is just as important or more important than 2016. You know, some are calling this Trump's reelection.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Trevor, what about you? How important do you think it is?

  • TREVOR MALLORY:

    It's like Cherie touched on. This is being called the Trump reelection. And for those really don't want to hear that, now is the time to get up and make a difference.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's talk about what is on your mind. What is it that is driving your vote this time?

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    There are a lot of issues. There are a lot of things at stake. We have two taxes on our ballot in Hillsborough County.

    If those pass, we will be the highest-taxed county in Florida, and so that's very important to me. With the unfortunate event in Parkland, the Second Amendment has become a huge issue here in Florida. And I don't believe that we need more gun control rights.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why not?

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    We need to help people who have mental health issues. That is the area that really needs to be addressed. It's not gun control. We need to re-shift the focus to helping people that need help.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What is it that is driving you to make sure to vote that makes you believe these elections matter?

  • LIZ GUTIERREZ:

    So, for me, I'm one of those silly people that believe in peace and justice for all, not just for some.

    While it is important to keep our taxes, for example, in check, it is also very important to invest in the society and in our community. So if we don't educate our young children, if we don't create the best schools that we can, if folks don't have economic opportunity, then we're all in trouble.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about you, Trevor? What matters to you?

  • TREVOR MALLORY:

    Number one is education. In Pinellas County, we're at a rate of where the percentage is overwhelming on how many of our students can't read.

    And that needs to be changed. And I think it has to do with not the quality of teachers, but just the pay of the teachers. And, number two are the gun laws. We just have to change them.

    And I really commend those young kids at Stoneman Douglas, where they actually stepped up after the incident that happened there. And I believe they really are a key part of the excitement about this midterm election.

    And number three is the restoration, the restoring of rights. I just think people need to get more educated on who's allowed to get their rights back, number one, and how long should it take, and who shouldn't get their rights.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For a felon.

  • TREVOR MALLORY:

    For felons.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Jake, what about you? What's driving you, especially in the Senate and the governor's races?

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    There really is a lot. So, for me, personally, when I see something about the environment on there, I'm excited about candidates that are going to talk about that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Sandy, what about you? You take an interest in politics. What matters most to you?

  • SANDY RIEF:

    Right now, health care does. I'm on Medicare. And, you know, we don't have a good health care system in this country. Obamacare was excellent, and it's been beaten down.

    Other issues that I think are important, the environment, sea level rise, climate change. That's important. People have got to realize that if we don't do something like that, you know, the state of Florida will be underwater.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Liz, let me back to you. What are you thinking right now, when you think about the governor's race between Congressman DeSantis and the mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum?

  • LIZ GUTIERREZ:

    The term, the word that comes to me is fear. It's really a hostile environment, where folks even — regular people don't feel comfortable talking to each other because they're afraid of the differences in opinion might lead to something else.

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    I kind of agree with what she said. People are afraid of one or the other. They are afraid — everybody's afraid of losing their rights, whether it's rights for guns or their right to like a safe community.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Trevor, how do you see the governor's race right now?

  • TREVOR MALLORY:

    Well, I have to say, during the primaries, I did support Mayor Andrew Gillum, and I have been actually still working to help support him.

    But once he won the nomination and then DeSantis came out with his comment about monkeying it up, I just think that line didn't have to be crossed, when you're talking about racism. It was racially pushed, but it just didn't need to happen.

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    You know, to the monkeying around comment, I — personally, when I heard that, I didn't take that as a racial issue.

    There are a lot of other things that I hear that I can say, wow, that was meant — that's egregious, that is something that I think is racially charged.

    We just had robo-calls that were put out around the state that made local and state news. And they're clearly very racist. If you go and listen to them or read the transcripts, then that's something that you can see is racially charged. But you can't pull racism from one comment like that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Trevor, is it possible that there's been an overreaction from the people supporting Andrew Gillum?

  • TREVOR MALLORY:

    I don't I think there's an overreaction. I just think we took it, we commented on it, and we dealt with it, and now we're moving on.

    It actually ignited us in the African-American community, because I want to touch on what you said. You said you don't think it's a racist comment, but, at the same time, the robo-call was in effect to monkeying it up, because there was monkeys in the background.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And if you're going to deem that racial, then I think that comment or slip of the tongue, however you want to label it, that also has to be deemed as a racial comment. Let me come to you, Sandy, on some of this. Governor's race, what do you see unfolding here?

  • SANDY RIEF:

    It's the entire political spectrum. Everybody's telling lies.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Everybody? Both political parties?

  • SANDY RIEF:

    Everybody is telling lies.

    It starts at the top, with the president of the United States, and it goes all the way down. Every one of the commercials that you see is a lie, because they're trying to make their opponent look bad. We're not talking about the issues, the things that are important to the citizens of Florida and the citizens of our country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The governor's race, Gillum, who are you for and why?

  • LIZ GUTIERREZ:

    Of course I have to support Andrew Gillum. I am not the problem in our society. As a Latina woman, I am part of the — I am a part of the solution. I'm a contributor. I'm a taxpayer. I'm a voter.

    I have everything to give. And if we don't have a society that values my contributions as equal as it values that of anyone else, what kind of society do we have?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Cherie, what about you? Governor's race, Gillum, DeSantis?

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican. So I vote my values. My number one value is pro-life, so I vote from a pro-life viewpoint always.

    And so, obviously, I'm going to go for DeSantis. I also voted for President Trump.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Jake, as involved with the Young Republicans, you are supporting Republicans. Why Ron DeSantis in this governor's race?

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    Because the alternative is very scary to me as far as an economic climate goes. Higher taxes all around is something that worries me. It really does worry me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I want to turn to President Trump.

    How much does he — what he says, what he's done, how much is that a factor in your — the people you plan to vote for?

  • TREVOR MALLORY:

    What we're seeing and what we're hearing from him is just not the typical role model I would want for my kids to look at.

    So, when he comes down to support these candidates and have these rallies, it just stays negative.

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    DeSantis was asked about whether or not Trump is a role model. The answer is no. Right? That's not something that we should hesitate to say.

    Again, as a Republican, I take a lot of flak for certain things that I say, whether it comes from a moderate, reasonable position. But it's easy to see that the things that he says that are not OK. They're — it is OK to say that. And we can do that at the same time as agreeing with some of the policies that he has.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you think he's an asset for Republicans this year?

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    For — yes. Yes, absolutely. He is going to do a great job at helping turn out the vote for Republicans, yes.

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    I believe he is a force for positive. I don't think we needed just a nice, normal politician. I think our country was in such a state that we needed a wrecking ball to go into Washington and wreck it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How much does it — how much do you feel the country is divided right now? What do you think about that, Jake? And does it matter?

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    Yes, absolutely. The country is definitely divided. You see that at rallies. You see that at protests and counterprotests.

    We have got parties that are sitting on very far sides of the political spectrum.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, the president is blaming a lot of this, Cherie, on the news media, saying that the news media is contributing to the division. How do you see that?

  • CHERIE DENHAM:

    There's a lot of things that we agree on. I think we just have different roads and different avenues to get to these solutions. And I think the — I agree that the media does — it kind of leans toward more liberal. They have a very loud voice.

    You know, a lot of my friends get put in Facebook jail or shadow-banned on Twitter because they tweet out a lot of conservative things, and this is something that's really happening. So — but honestly, at our core, I think we are more united than we are divided.

  • SANDY RIEF:

    I think we are very divided, and the president is trying to keep us further apart. You know, he refuses to take a position on — he hasn't commented negatively and said what happened with the bombs that have been sent out.

    You know, he's not condemned that, like he should have. His ambivalence towards Saudi Arabia with Khashoggi, that was something that should have been condemned right out. Those are the types of things.

    And he goes to the rallies, and none of that is what's designed to bring us together. You know, you can document lie after lie after lie that he tells when he's out there speaking.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As your candidate, your man goes to Washington, what would you like to see him give a little on in order to reach some sort of resolution?

  • LIZ GUTIERREZ:

    So, I'm going to go in the opposite direction and say to you that the thing that I have been disappointed about is I think that, as Democrats, we haven't been as strong.

    I think Republicans have been very clear about their messaging. I don't know that we, as Democrats, have that clear a sense of what the values are. And we have very strong values that I think are beneficial to everyone, but I don't know that we speak of them very clearly in a way that everyone understands.

  • JAKE HOFFMAN:

    As far as Republicans go, again, I think we — we're going to need to pivot more on the environment, because that is something that used to be a bipartisan issue, and education.

    So, we used to be able to agree that, let's make — if you walk outside, let's be able to take our kid to school and let's be able to breathe the air and go to the beach. You know, we just don't need to fight on some of these things.

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