Long, straight and narrow, the asphalt road is ragged and lonely. Juan Berrios stands in front of his attractive home in what he thought would be a thriving neighborhood. Instead, his neighbors are few. Juan is angry and disgusted.
A couple hours earlier, Juan was at a rally for Mitt Romney in Lehigh Acres. He stood there in the heat, a husky, friendly guy with a small, brown, long-haired dog named “Bo” on a leash. Juan listened carefully as Romney spoke for a few minutes in front of a home that was in foreclosure.
LeHigh Acres has been hammered by the housing crisis and thousands of homes are either in foreclosure or have owners desperately struggling to hang on. Romney and his entourage arrived in expensive black SUV’s that cost nearly as much as some of the smaller homes in the community.
Juan listened closely. He had driven nearly 30 minutes to hear what Romney had to say. Romney made a point of telling the several hundred people gathered at the rally that he understood that the foreclosed home behind him represented the lost dreams and shattered lives of a family.
Back at his home, Juan, 58, said he was unimpressed. “I didn’t hear anything that would make a difference in the people’s lives here,” he said as he looked around at the vacant lots that isolate his home on this quiet stretch of road.
“We need someone who will fight,” said Juan, who left Atlanta where he owned a small limousine service. “People are hurting. We need jobs. We need development to come back.”
Ask Juan if he has any hope that things will get better and he shrugs. “I don’t see it.” But Juan makes it clear that as far as he is concerned there is no hope if President Obama wins a second term.
Listening to Romney convinced him that he should support Gingrich. Why? Because he believes Gingrich will fight Obama and fight hard.
And that may be the key to success for Gingrich in the Florida primary. Many Republicans here are angry. They don’t want to just defeat Obama they want their pound of flesh. After interviewing Republicans in Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Lee, Broward counties and elsewhere, the message was clear – these voters see Romney as someone who will turn a debate with Obama into a genteel discussion about the issues. In Gingrich they see someone who will come out swinging, hit hard and leave Obama stumbling.
These voters don’t care about Gingrich working with Freddie Mac or what Romney paid in income taxes. What they feel is in their gut. There are scared and uncertain. And they resent the political establishment that they believe does not really care about them. It is a mood that will not be easily changed by television and radio ads.
If Newt Gingrich wins the Florida primary, it will be because of Republicans like Juan, who have simply had enough.
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