1. Archive


Inside St. Paul Catholic Church, positioned before a cross and a cafeteria, the candidates are readying for a Friday night forum.

Julianne Holt, the public defender running for re-election, is at the front door. "Hi. Nice to see you," she says.

She sees familiar faces.

"You know," County Commissioner Jim Norman says, "I've run against half of these people in this room."

And so it is here that the national political intelligentsia come to glean something about politics in the suburbs. The New York Times has dispatched its chief congressional correspondent, Adam Clymer.

He leaves early, bored, for his suite at the Hyatt.

Outside, just behind the oak trees, by the red fluorescent Chili's sign, beyond the speaker droning "Thomas, Party of 5," Mick Meszaros and Laura Barten emerge from dinner with similar feelings about the upcoming elections.

"Things are okay right now," Meszaros says. "So why change?"

If recent tradition holds, voters north of Tampa will turn out for Bob Dole on Nov 5.

George Bush took about 46 percent of Tampa's suburban vote in the 1992 three-way race. And nearly half the registered voters north of Tampa who belong to any party stand with the GOP, according to registration figures.

It's little doubt the Kansas Republican will win here. So the question becomes, by how much? To win the presidency, political observers say, Dole must do more than carry suburban precincts; he must sweep them. He cannot simply interest the suburbs; he must energize them.

He has not done that. Scores of interviews in greater Carrollwood and New Tampa show an electorate indifferent. Voters seem stuck in predictable patterns: Young families and African Americans favor the Democrats, while business owners and church leaders tend toward the GOP.

"I'm not thrilled about Clinton, and Dole still has to prove himself to me," says Carol Atchison, a Lutz mother of two and a neighborhood activist of sorts. "I hate not voting, and I've always voted, but it may come down to not voting or voting for Dole."

Friday night turns to Saturday morning.

Mark Feenan, 32, is wheeling his 1-year-old daughter, Kelly, around the Carrollwood Village golf course in a stroller.

An accountant who moved with his family from New York to Florida, Feenan fits the stereotypes of a country club Republican. But he plans to vote the Democratic ticket on Tuesday.

"I'm a realist. I'm an accountant," Feenan says, referring to Dole's plan to reduce taxes by 15 percent. "I know if it comes out of one pot, you have to take it from another pot.

"Dole calls it a tax cut. Clinton calls it a scheme. I think it's a scheme."

Not that Feenan couldn't use the money. With two young children, he wonders how he will pay for their college education. He also wonders whether he can afford to put his kids in private schools, which he may want to do. He says his children will not learn as much or as well in Hillsborough's public school system.

So he invests. Mainly, he puts his extra income in mutual funds.

"The market is growing by leaps and bounds," he says.

Further down North Village Drive, Dennis and Sandi Pitocco watch their children trample the neighborhood playground.

"Everyone feels better off. So it's like, don't rock the boat," Sandi Pitocco says. "And Dole's not coming up with something out of sight, and he's a 30- or 40-year politician."

In Westchase, Brenda Schneider is selling old furniture out of her garage. She lives in Harbor Links, behind an automatic gate that keeps out stray traffic.

"I'm not looking for (Clinton) to do anything wonderful," she says. "I'm voting for the status quo. I'm not for voting his image _ I don't think he's part of Camelot."

Life, she says, is good.

"It's great to wake up and see the sunshine every day."

Such sentiments distinguish Clinton's base of support from Dole's. Clinton's backers seem apathetic; Dole's seem angry.

"Clinton, in my opinion, is an absolute embarrassment to the country," says Tom Aderhold, a psychologist who lives in the Carrollwood's Country Place subdivision. "He lies too much. He covers up. He's involved with too many illegal activities. I cannot see anything that I can trust about the man."

Down at the Farm Market produce stand on Sinclair Hills Road in Lutz, squash goes for $1 and talk is free. Rush Limbaugh's voice provides the soundtrack.

"Hitler and Clinton have a lot in common," says 65-year-old Rich Cook, explaining that both men manipulated the masses masterfully.

"It should be no contest," he says. "Anyone who would vote for Clinton needs to have their head examined."

That line of reasoning reaches over to Pasco County, where Rachel Nason waits in the Meadow Pointe clubhouse. Nason, director of religion at St. Mark the Evangelist, is trying to line up a meeting place for her church youth group.

"Our values and morals are missing and (Clinton's) going along with it," she says.

"People are searching for happiness in the wrong areas. When we all know that happiness comes from God."

Back at St. Paul, the candidates are preaching to the converted.

Larry Smith, the Republican nominee for County Commission, attacks his opponent Jan Platt for her reputation as "Commissioner No." John Hooker, running on the GOP ticket for public defender, raises the specter of an ethics investigation against the incumbent Holt.

Fred Marin, the night janitor, ducks in to see some of the scene. Unimpressed, he goes back to work.

His boss barks at him to remove some yard signs from the church's lawn. Candidates planted them there even though the church had asked them not to.

"Here's one from Mr. Sharpe," Marin says, picking up the signs. "He just keeps running."

As Marin works, his 13-year-old daughter watches television in the back of a church dining hall. She lives with her mother, but visits Dad often, Marin says. Friday night is their only time together.

To pay rent on his Northdale town house, Marin, 43, works two jobs. He spends nights mopping at St. Paul and days delivering flowers out of his Ford truck.

He opposes abortion on demand, but will vote his pocketbook for Clinton.

"What my parents were able to do with one income, I can't do with two," he says.

With any luck, he says, he will leave work early Friday night.

But first, when the candidates are finished talking, he will have to clean up their mess.

This story was reported by Times staff writers Linda Chion-Kenney, Bill Coats, Erika Duckworth, Tim Grant, David Karp, Kari Ridge and Jackie Ripley.

"What scares me is the country is spending money, and it doesn't have it. The people who have to pay for it are people of my generation. The older people don't have to worry about it."

_ Scott Blanks, 25, works at the golf cart house at the Westchase Gold & Country Club

DECISION: Undecided. He is tempted to vote for Perot.

"They are going to do whatever they want to do anyway. ... They always say one vote makes a difference. Well, I don't think so."

_ Christine Branigan, 32, works at Keystone Korner restaurant on Tarpon Springs Road

DECISION: Not planning to vote because she is disgusted with all the candidates.

"The only people who are going to make money on that tax cut is the rich. A person struggling like me isn't going to get something out of it."

_ Johnny Sales, 54, owner and cook of Chuckwagon Express, a barbecue restaurant on Livingston Avenue in Lutz

DECISION: Will vote for Clinton.

"If my child came home at midnight and said, "I didn't inhale,' do you think I'm going to believe that?"

_ Mary Szeja, 42, Lutz resident and mother of three children

accomplished much in all his years in the U.S. Senate.

DECISION: Will vote for Perot. She thinks Clinton's ethics would lead the country down a slippery moral slope. Dole, she said, hasn't accomplished much in all his years in the U.S. Senate.