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Many Hernando County voters unenthusiastic about choices in GOP primary

There's a saying in Jim White's business that came to the 68-year-old Brooksville resident's mind as he cast a vote Tuesday for his favorite Republican presidential candidate.

"You never quite have the perfect truck, but you get what you can and you use it," said White, who owns Suncoast Truck and Equipment in Brooksville with his wife, Jean, 62.

The couple had just left Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville, home to Precincts 10 and 22. For the Whites, Mitt Romney is that less-than-perfect truck, a former business executive with government experience who can rein in what they call stifling overregulation and instill confidence in the markets to get credit flowing again. Otherwise, the Whites fear, this could be their last election cycle in business.

Many Hernando County voters interviewed by the Times outside polling places Tuesday offered similar, go-with-the-best-truck sentiments. Neither Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, nor Newt Gingrich, the other GOP frontrunner, sparked real passion in them.

"We could almost flip a coin," said 81-year-old Paul Swauger after he and his wife, Nancy, left Grace World. "They both have good qualities, they would both be admirable in the White House, and they could both beat (President Barack) Obama, and we'd rejoice in that."

Nancy, an 80-year-old retired university professor, sought a little divine guidance.

"I prayed about it really hard," she said.

In the end, they both decided to go with Romney so they wouldn't cancel each other's vote.

Final numbers were not available early Tuesday evening, but voter turnout seemed respectable. Nearly 13,000 of the county's 47,562 registered Republicans had shown up to the polls by 6 p.m., according to the county elections office. Another 3,525 voted early, and more than 1,700 cast absentee ballots.

Many voters said the economy topped their list of important issues.

For Scott Georgalas, a 51-year-old insurance sales representative from Spring Hill, that translated to a vote for Gingrich. When Gingrich was speaker of the U.S. House, the budget got balanced, and the two parties were able to accomplish something, Georgalas said after voting at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Spring Hill.

"I have a feeling if Romney gets in there, it will be the same bickering back and forth," he said. "I gotta go for the track record."

Some voters came to the polls armed with months' worth of conviction.

Deanna Myers, a 44-year-old former restaurant manager who is now working to finish her associate's degree, voted for Romney in 2008 and did so again Tuesday at St. Joan of Arc. She said Romney is best equipped to improve the economy as she searches for a new job.

Thomas Wood, Jr., a retired social worker and administrator from Spring Hill, decided early that Gingrich is most likely to cut government spending.

"I believe the party needs to get back to its roots," Wood said.

Jill Yates, 54, and April Yates, 23, comprised a mother-daughter team for Rick Santorum. The two women acknowledged on their way out of St. Joan of Arc, however, that they'd just cast votes for a candidate who doesn't have a real shot.

April, a chiropractor's assistant, said she considered voting for one of the frontrunners, but her support for Santorum's stances on social issues wouldn't let her.

"I think if more people voted for who they thought was right and not just for who they thought could win, then more candidates of good morals and characteristics would be in office," she said.

Jill Yates said she compromised in the 2008 GOP primary by voting for Romney instead of her real favorite, Mike Huckabee.

"I didn't make the same mistake this time," she said.

Audra Thomason, a 23-year-old Publix cashier and customer service representative from Brooksville, cast a vote for Ron Paul.

Paul doesn't seem like a puppet for special interests like so many other politicians, Thomason said.

Voters generally excoriated Obama. Then there was Stephani Atanacio, a 25-year-old student studying business management and Internet marketing.

Atanacio, who spent seven years in the Navy, voted for Romney at Grace World because of his executive experience. But she said she is generally pleased with Obama, citing his efforts to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, his support for ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay military personnel and his work to improve the health care system. Then she offered what would be for her fellow Republicans a cringe-inducing sentiment: She hasn't ruled out voting for Obama in November.

"I think he'd be great for another four years," she said.

Regardless of candidate loyalty, nearly all voters said they were turned off by the barrage of attack ads deployed during the primary campaign.

In fact, that is one area where a little more government regulation might help in the form of a spending cap on advertising, Jim White said.

"That way they explain what they want to do for the country and leave it at that."

Many Hernando County voters unenthusiastic about choices in GOP primary 01/31/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 8:20pm]
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