Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Hillsborough County is the nation's no-partisan zone

Turns out, Main Street USA is not just a marketing ploy at Disney parks.

It exists a few blocks from the neighborhood where they've rolled Cuban cigars for more than a century. It's near a bay, close to strawberry fields and down the road from a collection of strip clubs.

It looks diverse, it sounds moderate and it feels increasingly relevant.

So where is Main Street USA?

Apparently, somewhere in Tampa.

How else would you explain Hillsborough County's uncanny ability to reflect the mood of America when it comes to presidential elections? Hillsborough is not reliably Republican, nor reliably Democratic.

It is reliably accurate.

In 21 of the last 22 presidential elections, Hillsborough has supported the candidate who has gone on to win.

That means Hillsborough went for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson before pivoting to two terms of Richard Nixon. It means Hillsborough believed in George W. Bush's conservative views for eight years before turning its fortunes over to Barack Obama's progressive vision for the next eight years.

Of the 40 most populous counties in the nation, none can match Hillsborough's knack of discerning which candidate, and which party, has tapped into the nation's consciousness since 1928.

Question: Which election did Hillsborough misfire on?

(We'll get to that later.)

Better question: What makes Hillsborough unique?

The simple, and accurate, answer is the county's diverse demographics. Nearly 16 percent of the county's voters are African-American, and nearly 17 percent are Hispanic. Non-whites, overall, make up more than 40 percent of the electorate in Hillsborough.

But that doesn't explain everything. Other markets have a similar mix of Democrats in the urban core, and Republicans in the suburbs.

What makes Hillsborough different is a lack of roots. There is no generational stronghold because the county continues to grow and change every year. The number of votes in Hillsborough increased nearly 500 percent from 1960 to 2012. And a diverse influx contributes to a diversity of views.

In this case, the lack of an identity actually is an identity.

"I don't know if it's still accurate, but it certainly was for a lot of years, other than tropical fish, the second-highest volume of cargo going out of (Tampa International Airport) is bodies,'' said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "That tells you if someone is going home to be buried, this is not their original home.''

That transient nature translates to unpredictability. Residents are less ideological and more pragmatic when it comes to elections, Buckhorn said. Voters are more willing to listen to candidates than follow party policies.

"Literally, the road to the White House runs through Tampa,'' Buckhorn said. "If you can win here, you can win anywhere in the country.''

(And, in case you're still wondering, Hillsborough's only miss was voting for George H.W. Bush instead of Bill Clinton in 1992. Ross Perot getting 20 percent of the vote might have had something to do with that.)

Voter registration numbers say Hillsborough leans left, but the majority of county commissioners veer right. So what is the county's true nature? Apparently, on either side of Main Street.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this column.

Romano: Hillsborough County is the nation's no-partisan zone 11/05/16 [Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2016 7:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

    Blogs

    Winner of the week 1: 'Liquor wall’ proponents. Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a bill to allow Walmart, Target and other big box stores to sell liquor was a victory for an array of groups, from smaller merchants and Publix (which has stand-alone booze shops near its stores) to those who feel the hard stuff …

  2. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

    Blogs

    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  3. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  4. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  5. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.