Where the base is safe for GOP
The country may be down on President Bush, but he still has staunch support from the Villages.
By BILL ADAIR
Published June 17, 2006
THE VILLAGES — This is Republican territory.
Residents of this sprawling retirement community put American flags
“If we weren’t over there (in Iraq), the world would be in chaos.”
“I think they all do it. Some of them just get caught.”
“I relate him to Reagan. He absolutely means what he says.”
“Things like that are going to happen. … I can’t really say anything bad about the guy.”
on their golf carts, trust the Fox News Channel and still curse Bill Clinton. Two-thirds of them chose George W. Bush over Sen. John Kerry, who still is referred to as “the guy who looked like Herman Munster.”
With polls showing widespread discontent with President Bush and the Republican Congress, even among Republicans, you might expect some unhappiness around here. After all, the pastel stuccoed homes in the Villages are filled with conservatives who were outraged by the ethical controversies of the Clinton years. They should feel the same way about Tom DeLay, right?
These voters are especially important because they make up the Republican base, which is crucial in nonpresidential elections. If the core voters lose their enthusiasm and stay home on Election Day, as some analysts predict, the GOP would be in trouble in November.
But interviews last week with two dozen residents showed the Republican base here is solid. They strongly support President Bush (“a man of integrity,” according to Villages resident Larry Deason). They don’t believe the polls, they like Ann Coulter for telling it like it is and they think the news media withholds good news from Iraq.
These Republican voters are not fond of Congress — many said there’s too much partisan bickering — but their complaints were aimed at the institution, not the Republicans who run it. Likewise, scandals involving Reps. Tom DeLay and Randy “Duke” Cunningham don’t bother these voters. Many defended DeLay, a party leader who is accused of money laundering and conspiracy who recently resigned from Congress.
Howard Doran, 69, a retired pharmaceutical company manager, said DeLay “is not one of my favorites. But he’s a saint compared to Ted Kennedy.”
'The greatest president’
Nestled in the center of the state about 90 miles northeast of Tampa Bay, the Villages is an important place for Republican candidates. President Bush campaigned here in 2004, and Gov. Jeb Bush is a frequent visitor.
With a population of roughly 60,000, the Villages is larger than Pinellas Park and will have 100,000 residents by 2010.
The retirees like the spacious, moderately priced homes (two-bedroom, two-bath homes “beginning in the $140s”) and the wide range of activities. There are more than 500 clubs for everything from clogging to riding Harleys. There’s even a golf cart drill team.
The residents love politics.
Like many of his neighbors, Lenn Lamoureux, 73, a retired federal employee from the Washington, D.C., area, is a Republican because of the party’s philosophy on limited government. Lamoureux said the liberal approach is that “the government is going to take care of me until I die.” He believes people should succeed or fail based on their own work.
With so many Republicans here, the outnumbered Democrats lie low.
“When I’m in a big group and they are talking politics, I keep quiet,’’ said Democrat Claire Tucci, 68, a retired nurse.
It’s understandable that Tucci is reluctant to speak up, because Republicans in the Villages are passionate. Despite national polls showing Bush’s approval ratings have sunk to the low 30s, the Villagers gush with praise.
“I’m behind President Bush all the way,” said Thomas Farrell, 64, a retired New York garbage collector. “He’s a down-to-earth president. He doesn’t pull any punches.”
Doran calls him “the greatest president we’ve ever had.”
Dissatisfaction is quite rare, but it’s there. One resident said Bush should be more inspirational to the troops in Iraq. A few others are unhappy with Bush’s decision to go into Iraq.
“He worries me,” said Al Orr, 69, a retired mechanical engineer who usually votes Republican. “I don’t think he’s intelligent enough or wise enough.”
Mad at Congress
Republicans in the Villages are loyal to their party, but they have little enthusiasm for the GOP-run Congress.
Some said congressional Republicans aren’t conservative enough. Deason complained they are “trying to be more like Democrats and be politically correct” on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
Others said Congress is all talk, no action.
“It’s a joke,” said Richard Trocan, 68, a retired construction supervisor. “They complain, but there’s no sense of action.”
But despite the grousing, there’s not much desire to throw the rascals out. Residents said they are satisfied with their representatives in Congress, Ginny Brown-Waite and Cliff Stearns, both Republicans.
If the residents’ current enthusiasm is an indicator, they are likely to vote — and stick with their party — in November.
The Democratic charge that the GOP has a “culture of corruption” doesn’t strike a chord in the Villages. Indeed, when asked about recent scandals involving Republican officials, several voters defended their leaders. They said corruption is an inevitable byproduct of politics and that Republicans are no worse than Democrats
Asked about DeLay, Margaret Yadeski, 80, said “at least he didn’t do it under the desk in the Oval Office,” referring to the activities of President Clinton.
The Republicans of the Villages distrust “the liberal media” and many said they get their news from the Fox News Channel. The father of White House press secretary Tony Snow, recently of Fox News, lives here.
David Cobb, 64, a retired Navy lieutenant, said he liked Fox because “they tell you the good stuff” that he says newspapers refuse to print.
Yadeski praised Fox.
“They’re fair, especially O’Reilly,” she said, referring to talk show host Bill O’Reilly. “If he ever runs for president, I’ll campaign for him.”
Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 463-0575.