ST. PETERSBURG, Fla .– Dan Parri, a City of Clearwater lawyer, loved driving around town with the Pinellas County Jeep Club – until some members started to decorate their vehicles with the Trump 2020 campaign flags.
Mr. Parri therefore took the floor and then continued to speak. The Confederate flag also bothered him, he told his Jeep enthusiast friends, as did the systemic racism that led to the murder of George Floyd.
And when his words met with resistance, he founded what he calls a “progressive Jeep club”.
“We have about 70 members,” he said, standing proudly next to his Jeep, which he named Prometheus and decorated with red, white and blue balloons; an American flag; a Black Lives Matter flag; another flag with an LGBT rainbow he found on Amazon; and lots of Biden-Harris campaign props.
In another year, Mr. Parri’s new club might be seen as a mere curiosity in Pinellas County, Florida with a population of 974,996.
But in 2020, in the state of swing that has capped former presidents by small margins, much of this country rests on the overarching question of who flies which flag on which Jeep.
As returns pour in across the state on Tuesday evening, more than a few eyes will be on this part of the central Gulf Coast, which includes liberal St. Petersburg and conservative Clearwater, the resort and base of the ‘Church of Scientology.
Pinellas County’s population, roughly three-quarters of which are white, includes a good number of older retirees and suburban women, two groups that polls show significantly favor Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate for election. the Presidency. Still, the county’s electoral preferences this year are much more difficult to discern: Among registered voters, about 256,000 are registered as Democrats and about 252,000 as Republicans.
This leaves Pinellas like a swing county in a swing state.
“In Florida we are another melting pot and each brings their values of what they have with them – true, false or indifferent,” said Shawn Berger, 48, who lives in Dunedin, on the north end of the county. , and works in the field of information technology.
After Barack Obama won Pinellas County by strong margins in 2008 and 2012, Donald J. Trump narrowly triumphed there by about 6,000 votes, out of about half a million votes. Hillary Clinton has visited Florida more than any other battleground during the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign, spending hugely on advertising statewide. But post-election watchers said his appeals to middle-class voters in Pinellas County did not resonate as well as those of Mr. Obama.
These days, with most polls indicating that everyone’s guessing who will take Florida away, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have once again stormed the region in the home stretch.
The pair held rallies in nearby Tampa on Thursday that highlighted the polar opposing realities each candidate now resides in: Mr Biden’s rally was socially distant and focused on the death toll from the coronavirus, while Mr Trump took no precautions and repeated unsubstantiated allegations about the business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, in Ukraine.
Mr Berger attended Mr Trump’s rally, arriving in Tampa at 11:30 p.m. the day before with a group of friends to ensure they would be among the first to enter the stadium to see the president.
Mr Berger, a conservative who said he blocked Fox News on social media because it was “too mainstream”, said he enjoyed the crowd’s enthusiasm and the president’s speech. He even asked his young daughter to take a day off from school to attend the rally with him because, he said, he “felt it would be a good learning experience, so that she could learn from it. more on history and politics firsthand.
“Is he rude? Does he have a locker room mentality? Mr. Berger asked, referring to the president. “Yeah sure, but I’m not hiring him to be nice.”
Travel south to Mr. Berger’s house in Dunedin and the political landscape changes. St. Petersburg – once overshadowed by the Clearwater Retreat Center – has been transformed by the past few years which have brought a mixture of gentrification and progressive politics. Trump flags are mostly disappearing, replaced by banners of gay pride and organic food markets.
A short drive from Tropicana Stadium, Terri Lipsey Scott, director of the city’s Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, delivered a speech at a drive-in, get-out-the- rally. votes in honor of Representative John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat and voting rights champion who died over the summer.
At the rally, speakers mainly focused on what they said were efforts to stop voters from voting this year – and how to fight them. Those efforts included that of the Florida Republicans, who bypassed a statewide referendum to extend the right to vote to former criminals by asking them to pay court costs. It is believed that one in five black Floridians have been convicted of a felony and may not be able to vote because of it.
Ms Scott ended her speech by calling on attendees, parked and listening to their cars, to drive in a convoy through town in support of Biden – as Trump supporters had done for their candidate in recent days.
“I got a call from the local police saying if we block traffic we will get a ticket,” she said. “I don’t encourage anyone to break the law, but today is a day for some ‘good trouble’,” she added, using one of Mr Lewis’ signature phrases from his struggles for civil rights.
Across town, in an early voting line, Albert Hill, 22, seemed less involved in the politics of the year than the anxiety of being a recent college graduate in a job market dark. Mr Hill, who had briefly worked for a clothing company after graduating in fashion marketing in May, was out of a job after the pandemic shut down much of the county’s economy.
“These are the next four years that I will have to think about the most, who gets elected and what jobs are in place,” he said.
Mr. Hill voted for Mr. Biden.
Down the street stood Billy Overcast – “spelled like the weather,” Mr. Overcast said, however indicating a generally clear day in one hand, a “Trump 2020” flag in the other.
He said he understood Mr Hill’s concerns, as a young person facing economic uncertainty. Morgan, 25, the daughter of Mr. Overcast, who is in graduate school, has vowed to vote for Mr. Biden after his voter registration arrived at his home.
Mr Overcast said he believes he has raised all of his children as politically and culturally conservative, even teaching his daughter to shoot a 22-caliber squirrel rifle given to him when he was younger. It hadn’t really worked, he said.
A nearby bicycle neighbor took off his headphones and shouted that Mr. Trump was a dictator.
Mr. Overcast sighed. He said living in the same county as the headquarters of the Church of Scientology taught him to tolerate almost every point of view, even that of the neighbor, whom he suspected of stealing the Trump sign on his lawn.
Mr Overcast said his home security system videotaped the culprit getting away with it. But rather than confront the neighbor, Mr. Overcast has just bought another sign.
“But with this one, I tied 90 pounds of fishing line on it and tied it to a tree in my backyard,” he said.