DUNEDIN — Traffic gently moved along Main Street on Tuesday. On a gorgeous fall afternoon, couples searching for a place to grab lunch walked along the sidewalks with clasped hands. Merchants gave welcoming smiles as folks window-shopped or popped in to browse.
"The is a little American town," said Nancy Harris, who's owned the Palm Latitudes gift shop for 18 years, 12 of that on Dunedin's Main Street. "Everybody knows and helps each other, like it used to be. We take care of each other."
That's one of the reasons some residents believe that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama chose this town of 36,000 residents to host a rally today at Knology Park.
"We have people from all different backgrounds," said Janet Henderson, a former Dunedin city commissioner as she mailed a package from the Box Car, the historic railcar that's home to the U.S. Postal Service office. "We are a gathering spot for the county."
Obama's regional communications director said Dunedin is a prime area to reach the swing vote.
"It's always been our mission to reach every voter we can," Adora Andy said. "Every independent. Every undecided. And we all know that the Tampa Bay area is where the swing voter lives. These are the people who carefully decide who will be our next president. The way we vote here in the Tampa Bay area is the way Florida votes."
In 2000, Al Gore won Dunedin precincts over George Bush by a little more than 100 votes, according to the Pinellas County Board of Elections. In 2004, Dunedin voters gave President Bush the nod by a little more than 1,000 votes over John Kerry.
According to August registration data, there are some 12,000 Republicans, a little more than 10,000 Democrats and nearly 7,000 unaffiliated registered voters in Dunedin.
Gregory Brady, who owns Gregory's Salon and is the co-founder of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association, said the town is an example of how to make a downtown grow without being overtaken by big-box stores.
"We are all mom-and-pop businesses down here," said Brady, who has lived in Dunedin since he was 9 and owned the shop for 15 years. "We are also the people who feel we get the least amount of help."
Dunedin is a quaint town with a shoreline made for watching the sun set. In September, CNNMoney.com named it the best waterfront community for retirees; and in May, Caladesi, a barrier island off Dunedin's coastline, was named America's best beach by the Florida International University Laboratory for Coastal Research.
Dolores Dowdall moved to Dunedin from Detroit eight years ago. She said her friends have noticed.
"I've been getting e-mails from my friends up North saying you live in this gem of a town," Dowdall said.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.