Middle of the day, middle of the week, and two instructors and a dozen others readied for a waltz class in the Hillsborough County retirement enclave Sun City Center. They have time to read and watch the news. They had heard about what Mitt Romney said.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," the Republican presidential candidate said in a speech to a small group of rich donors a while back in Boca Raton. A video of which was leaked earlier this week. He said this 47 percent are "people who pay no income tax" and "who are dependent upon government" and "believe that they are victims."
It's a group that's predominantly elderly and poor.
Before the Sun City waltz class, Tom Giannina, 74, a retired dentist and one of the two instructors, said he agreed.
"Hundred percent," he said. "Absolutely. He should reinforce what he said."
"As for Social Security," said Bernie DuBro, 68, Giannina's wife and the other instructor, "we paid into that."
The music started. The room filled with the sounds of soles of shoes shuffling across the wooden floor. The sequence of the steps was a challenge.
"Left and right," DuBro told them. "Left and right and back."
After the class, Carolyn Deming, 85, wanted to say she wasn't part of the 47 percent.
When she worked, she taught school, "now and then, not a lot," she said. She now collects military benefits from her late first husband. She collects Social Security benefits from her late second husband. Her health care is Medicare.
She called Romney's comments "perfectly logical."
"I am very, very anti-government," she explained.
• • •
Tyrone Square. Mall walkers had the run of the place. Selling electronic cigarettes, was John Dunk, 29, of Gulfport, and he had heard about what Romney said.
The Wisconsin native used to do pretty well up there, working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, but now he makes less. His earnings, or lack thereof, he said, put him in the 47 percent.
"It doesn't bother me," he said.
He said he's voting for Romney because he thinks government needs to be smaller.
But Romney in essence called him "dependent." He didn't find that insulting?
"No," he said. "I feel 100 percent non-dependent on the government. I don't care about any of the programs. I don't care about Social Security. I'd rather just do it myself."
He took a long drag from one of his electronic cigarettes, which give the user a nicotine fix without the smoke and the smell. The orange light at the tip of the contraption mimicked the glow of the ash. He blew a cloud of white smoke-like vapor into the air. The tattoo on the outside of his left arm said Happiness is a warm gun. The tattoo on the inside of his left arm was a snippet of Beatles lyrics. The love you take is equal to the love you make.
• • •
Lunchtime. Downtown Tampa. Marty Greenwald manned his hot dog cart at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Franklin Street.
He had heard.
He's part of the 47.
"I work and I don't make the kind of money those guys make," he said, referring to Romney and other multimillionaires. "I work for a living."
The 60-year-old has been hawking hot dogs here for 30 years.
Used to be six or seven dozen hot dogs sold was a good day. Now it's more like two dozen. For him, after Barack Obama was elected four years ago, business didn't get better. It got worse.
"What comes in goes out," he said. "There's no saving for anything these days. You have to have two incomes and you have to pay your bills."
His wife works for Hillsborough's Property Appraiser's Office.
"Government's not going to help us get back on our feet," he said. "The individual's going to get us back on our feet."
So … he's voting for Romney?
He shook his head.
"You can't vote for him. He doesn't have a clue what the 47 percent is going through."
So … Obama?
Greenwald would have lost his house in Redington Beach by now, he said, if not for a program that helped him cut his mortgage payment in half. He credits Obama for that.
"I think this man has helped the 47."
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.