'I voted for Marine Le Pen and Barack Obama'
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Voters in Florida, America’s biggest and most volatile swing state, could determine the outcome of the November 6 election. FRANCE 24’s Jon Frosch and Julien Peyron check the pulse of a cross section of voters in the Sunshine State.
reporting from Miami, Florida
‘I don’t want to pay for everybody else’s healthcare’
Patricia Darrigan, 49, is the director of organ donor operations at the University of Miami Tissue Bank. The Florida native – from Fort Lauderdale, a coastal city north of Miami – and registered Republican says she has seen the administrative and financial impact of “Obamacare” up close and personal, and she doesn’t like it. “It costs us a lot of money, and I don’t want to pay for everybody else’s healthcare,” she said.
Darrigan is a self-described solution-oriented fiscal conservative – her nickname at work is “Ms. Fix-it” – and a proud supporter of Mitt Romney. That doesn’t mean she agrees with him on everything. Though she is Catholic, she is pro-choice and in favour of same-sex marriage; her 26-year-old son, whom she raised alone, is gay (and a staunch Barack Obama supporter).
“But those shouldn’t be our primary reasons for voting,” she added. “Gay marriage will come. I want tax reform and economic stability, and Romney can do that.”
As for the president, Darrigan admires how he’s handled foreign policy and admits he had “a tough job”. But, she said, “his views are a bit Socialist, and that’s scary”.
Darrigan – who has a framed photo of Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and brother of George W. Bush – is sticking firmly with her party.
‘Romney has no respect for me as a homosexual’
Jackson Wayland, 23, comes from a conservative Southern Baptist family in Silver Creek, Georgia. He was raised to believe in God and respect traditional American family values – and the Republican party. Naturally, he voted for John McCain in 2008, his first presidential election.
But Wayland is gay, and after leaving Georgia and settling in Miami, he began to see things differently. “Growing up in a small town, you follow in your parents’ footsteps,” he said in a deep Southern drawl, as he served cocktails and chatted up customers at Palace, the popular gay bar where he works in trendy South Beach. “My parents told me I was going to hell for being gay, and I believed them.”
Now Wayland is getting ready to cast his first presidential ballot as a Florida voter – but this time for Barack Obama. The main reason: Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage last May. “It was a really big moment for me,” he said. “I’m single now, but I want to get married one day. Obama proved he stands for what I stand for, whereas Romney has no respect for me as a homosexual.”
Miami is home for now, Wayland added. He has no plans to move back to Georgia.
‘I think Obama’s a Socialist’
Tony Almansa arrived in the US along with his parents in 1961 from his native Cuba. Like many of Florida’s Cuban-born residents, Almansa, now 66, has bitter memories of Communism under Cuban strongman Fidel Castro and fully embraces the Republican Party for its free-market policies and vows to safeguard American values. “I always vote Republican,” said Almansa, who made a “good living” in Miami by opening a catering company that sold meals to hospitals and hotels. “I’m in favour of lower taxes and fewer regulations for business.”
Almansa is a Romney voter. But his priority is to send Barack Obama packing. “I think he’s a Socialist,” he said. “I don’t agree with 98% of his policies.” The exception, he noted, is the president’s support for the Dream Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented residents brought to America as minors by their parents.
No matter who wins the election, however, Almansa will stay in Florida. “I’ve never been back to Cuba, and I have no interest,” he said. “Maybe I’d visit if the Castros are no longer in power.”
Meanwhile, Almansa spends his mornings sipping coffee and chatting with friends at Versailles, Miami’s famous Cuban restaurant and café. “I’m American, but I still feel a part of Miami’s Cuban community,” he said.
‘I don’t care if Obama and Netanyahu don’t get along’
Rachel Streitfeld, 28, is Jewish American and a staunch Barack Obama supporter – defying a popular misconception that the community has soured on America’s first black president.
The native Floridian (from Fort Lauderdale) is a regional director of “pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group” J Street, a self-described “practising Jew”, and has always supported Obama.
“I’ve backed Obama from the start,” Streitfeld said. “I love how nuanced and thoughtful he is. His personal story also resonates with me: he was a community organiser and made a living empowering other people. That’s phenomenal.”
Streitfeld dismisses Mitt Romney’s allegation that Obama has not been a strong leader abroad. “It all comes down to what you like in your foreign policy,” she explained. “I think the best way to keep America safe is to build consensus, to strengthen alliances. Obama is awesome at that.”
As for the ever-thorny Mideast issue and the notion that the president has allowed distrust to creep into the American-Israeli alliance, Streitfeld is categorical. “I don’t care if Obama and Netanyahu don’t get along,” she said. “What’s beautiful about US-Israel relations is that they go beyond the personalities of the two leaders. If Bibi doesn’t like Barack, and Barack doesn’t like Bibi, that’s ok.”
In other words: “I have no doubt who I’m voting for.”
‘I voted for Marine Le Pen and Barack Obama’
Anyone looking for electoral contradictions need look no further than Christian Jouault, a French immigrant from Normandy who has lived in the US for the past 23 years. The 47-year-old owner of “Le Café Bastille” restaurant has both US and French nationalities; he voted for far-right leader Marine Le Pen in France’s last presidential election and Barack Obama in early voting this week in Florida.
Despite the fact that Le Pen is often accused of being racist and Obama is black, Jouault insists that his voting record is consistent. “The Democrats would be considered a right-wing party in France,” he said. “And most French expats in Miami are pro-Obama, but voted for Sarkozy or Le Pen in France.”
Jouault, who moved to the US because he “didn’t feel free” in France, said that there are too many government-run social programmes in his native country, while the US could learn a thing or two from France’s publically-funded healthcare system. “Obamacare is good for the States. It’s outrageous that one of my employees, who’s diabetic, was rejected by all the private insurance companies.”
As for Romney, Jouault says he is not impressed. “He’s a businessman like me,” the garrulous Frenchman shrugged. “That doesn’t mean he’d be a good president.”