Ybor City—Florida was not feeling The Bern.
It’s less than a month before the March 15 Democratic primary, and I’m spending the afternoon phone banking at the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) office here in what used to be the center of Florida’s hand-rolled cigar industry. A historic neighborhood near downtown Tampa, Ybor City was once a rich blend of Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and German workers, and Jewish and Chinese shopkeepers. But it was devastated by urban renewal in the 1960s, especially the construction of Interstate 4, which tore through the neighborhood on its way from Tampa to Daytona.
Over the past decade the surviving low-slung brick factory buildings, some with delicate wrought iron balconies, have been converted into bars, clubs, restaurants, and tourist shops. The NNOC office is on 7th Avenue, the district’s main drag. Chris Woltman, who grew up in Thonotosassa, a small town about 10 miles east of here on the other side of the interstate, hands me a script and shows me how to use the Bernie Dialer, a computer program that automatically dials numbers on the voter list until someone picks up, then allows you to log the contact as either a Republican or Clinton supporter (in which case you thank them and hang up) or a possible Sanders voter (who get logged for follow-up calls).
In Florida politics, the “I-4 Corridor” was once known as the swingingest region in a swing state, full of independent voters that both parties would court assiduously. But President Obama carried this area by comfortable margins in 2008 and 2012, aided in part by changing demographics. The Hispanic population of Hillsborough County, which encompasses Tampa, increased by 70 percent from 2000 to 2010; the African-American population was up by 37 percent; and the number of Asians doubled during the same period.
Only we’re not calling Hillsborough County today—or even Florida voters. Instead we’re calling South Carolina, where the primary is just over a week away—and where I can’t say my effort made much difference to a disastrous finish. In the course of the afternoon I talk to lots of Republicans, plenty of folks who say they can’t be bothered to vote this year, and just one likely Sanders voter. Out of my fellow phone bankers only Nikol Hornsby, a mother of four from nearby Riverview, seems to have much luck, racking up an impressive string of Sanders “leaners.”