TAMPA — If only for an hour or two, political detente came to Tampa's Joe Chillura Courthouse Square on Thursday afternoon, enticed by free barbecue, mac and cheese, and thick-cut cream pies.
The only catch to a charcoal company's promotion?
Diners had to post a bipartisan political message, as creative or noncommittal as they deemed fit, to a social media site using the hashtag #BipartisanBBQ.
"Don't move to Canada, stick around and enjoy a BBQ," Josh Robertson, 30, wrote on Facebook.
"Left wing. Right wing. Chicken wing," wrote Lauren Morgan, 30, borrowing a slogan printed on signs given to the crowd.
Tampa landed the free lunch because it has endured the nation's highest rate of negative ads in the presidential race, according to Kingsford Charcoal, which cited research by Kantar Media. Since Jan. 1, an average of 55 negative ads have played here each day, according to the estimate.
Part of the lunch crowd was drawn from nearby offices by the smell of a large smoker, tended by World Champion Pitmaster Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala.
"There's way too much politicking, and it's turning people mean, evil," said Evie Williams, a legal assistant and "total Democrat." That's why Williams has stayed off social media since voters began to take sides.
"I don't even want to know what's on there," she said. "I want to keep my friends."
The barbecue was a nice respite from the political noise, said Janelle Chapman, 33, who proclaimed to her Facebook friends, "United in meat we stand."
"It's kind of scary," she said. "After this election I really don't know where the country will go."
Poll workers dressed in red and blue ensembles with stars-and-stripes scarves were a constant reminder of the election, as were people wearing "I Voted" stickers. Kingsford gave out campaign buttons declaring, "For dirty fingers, not dirty politics."
Michael Mullady, 24, and his mother, Kathleen Mullady, 62, traveled from St. Petersburg for the free barbecue. Michael had just voted, but was undecided up until the moment he cast his ballot, he said. "I tried to stay open minded."
Whether the barbecue changed any voter opinions, though, is hard to say. As he stepped through the line, Todd Scime, who runs a property zoning and construction company, wore a mischievous grin. His required post: "Go Trump. Save jobs. #BipartisanBBQ"
Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.
This story has been updated to reflect that Chris Lilly is from Decatur, Ala., not Georgia.