An acid attack and golf carts at war: The battle to win over retired Florida voters is tearing apart The Villages

Andrew Buncombe
·6 min read
Donald Trump looks set to win support of most residents of The Villages (Getty)
Donald Trump looks set to win support of most residents of The Villages (Getty)

According to the project’s developers, it it Florida’s “friendliest hometown”.

To many of the residents it is “Disney for adults”.

What it certainly is - especially for those so-called snowbirds who moved here to escape the winters of Boston or North Dakota - it is a playground in the sunshine. Golf carts to zip around on, a wealth of activities to keep oneself busy, and a bunch of casual, convenient bars whenever you decide its 6pm.

In recent months, however, the slow-paced calm of The Villages, a planned community for people aged over 55 that has already hit 150,000 and is among the largest in the world, has been abruptly shaken by raw party politics.

A convoy of Donald Trump supporters in golf carts were booed and yelled out by supporters of Joe Biden, one of whom yelled: “F*** Trump.”

Footage of the incident went viral, and then took on new controversy when the president himself retweeted a piece of footage in which one if his supporters could be heard shouting “white power”. The tweet was later deleted.

Now, being thrown into all of this just two weeks before the election, is Mr Trump himself. On Wednesday, the Trump campaign announced the president will visit on Friday. He will then travel to Pensacola for an evening rally. It will be his second visit. Vice president Mike Pence has already visited.

The trips by Mr Trump and his running mate to the huge retirement community, 60 miles northwest of Orlando, underlines the importance in this election of votes from the elderly, and retirees. Typically, older people are more likely to vote Republican, and in 2016 Mr Trump better Hillary Clinton in this demographic by as many as nine points.

But this spring, the Trump campaign received a staggering piece of news. A poll by Quinnipiac gave Mr Biden a 4 point leader over Mr Trump in the Sunshine State, and with the former vice president beating its current occupant by 10 points among those aged 65 and older.

Given Mr Trump must win Florida to have any meaningful chance of recapturing the White House, he cannot afford to lose the support of too many elderly voters here, where they make up to 20 per cent of the electorate, the largest in the country.

A current average of polls by RealClearPolitics gives Mr Biden a narrow 2.1 point lead in Florida - statistically within the margin of error. Its average of national polls gives the former vice president a 7.5 point lead.

The Independent visited The Villages before news of the the president’s visit was confirmed. But it was clear that Mr Trump will not be short of people to join his event later this week.

“He's done what he promised to do. You know how many of our politicians promise this and promise that, and they don't deliver and they don't even come close to doing it,” said Bonnie Nicholson, who moved from Connecticut 12 years ago and has no regrets.

“Some say they don’t like his personality. I say to them if you had a child that needed a brain operation, you don't care what the doctor’s personality is as long as he gets the job.”

She added: “I think he is saying what most of us thinking.”

Also heading to the supermarket was 81-year-old Thomas Hallack, who lived just outside of the villages. He said he had long been a Democrat yet voted for Mr Trump in 2016. He said he realised he made a mistake.

“I thought, Trump would be a better president than Hillary, even though I voted for his husband,” he said. “Trump has not been a good president.”

Many residents say they enjoy the atmosphere of the The Villages, the fact there is live music in the “town squares” most evening, or piped during the day. One evening couples were dancing to ballroom music, as others watched, or enjoyed a drink. The median age of residents is 67, notably younger than both Mr Trump and Mr Biden.

Supporters of president’s opponent also make opinion clearGetty
Supporters of president’s opponent also make opinion clearGetty

Yet for all its efforts to create a village, or a traditional town, The Villages feels rather plastic, and dominated by “Olde Worlde” style shop fronts, many of them occupied by health specialists, retirement planners and opticians.

If the place feels a little fake, the anxiety over the election and the Trump-Biden showdown feels very real. Ms Nicholson claimed supporters of Mr Biden had broken off Trump banners from their golf carts and some feared putting them on.

A group of three women enjoying pizza one evening, all of them supporters of Mr Biden, made the same accusations of Trump supporters. Sue Diffenderffer, 73, Jill Freedman, and Lindy Sherman, said many Biden supporters were too afraid to display banners. They claimed that one Trump supporters had poured acid onto a Biden supporter’s lawn.

“You have to be very careful who you are talking to,” said Ms Diffenderffer, who moved from the east coast.

They said the owners of the community were always seeking to portray The Villages in a good light and said they did not bother to read the official town newspaper, The Daily Sun. They, did, however, read an alternative source of news, Villages-News, a website.

“I had a Biden-Harris sign on my cart, and I was only a golf course path. I passed a gentleman and his partner, he passed me and spat in the road,” she said. “But we have had people vandalised. And its primarily Trump supporters against Biden-Harris.”

Dennis Sandwich, 76, is one of those who has a large Trump-Pence sign attached to his golf cart. He moved to The Villages from Toledo, Ohio.

“There are 150,000 people here and 60 to 70 per cent are for Mr Trump,” he said, saying he would again be voting for the president. “I think he has been phenomenal.”

The company did that owns The Villages did not respond to enquires from The Independent.

So will Mr Trump’s visit be worth it?

While there appears to have been no official poll taken of The Villages, Sumpter County, in which most of the properties are located voted 70 - 30 for Mr Trump.

And the golf car repair centre, Robert Allen, reckoned that for every vehicle that came in to be fixed bearing a sign for Mr Biden, there were two bearing signs for the president.

He was not concerned that both the candidates seeking the presidency in November were older than even the median age of the retirement community. He was also certain for who he would be voting.

“From what I’ve seen, I’d rather see Trump,” he said. “No matter what he says, Biden is not a person who should be president.”

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