THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — Sara Branscom’s golf cart whizzed down the smooth asphalt path that winds through The Villages, the nation’s largest retirement community, an expanse of beautiful homes, shops and entertainment venues that bills itself as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.”
Branscom’s cart was festooned with two American flags that flapped in the warm afternoon breeze. A line of oncoming carts bedecked with balloons and patriotic streamers chugged past while honking. Branscom jabbed her left foot on the horn pedal, then gave a thumbs-up.
“This gets you rejuvenated and ready for the next month or so, so we can do this and win. It gives you hope,” the 60-year-old retiree said.
Then she let out a whoop and two surprising words: “Go Biden!”
It’s not a cry that might be expected to resound in The Villages, and it’s certainly not one that is encouraging to President Donald Trump. Older voters helped propel him to the White House — the Pew Research Center estimates Trump led among voters 65 and older by 9 percentage points in 2016 — and his campaign hoped they would be a bulwark to cement a second term.
They remain a huge chunk of the electorate. Pew estimates that nationwide, nearly 1 in 4 eligible voters will be 65 and older. It’s the highest level on record, going back to 1970.
But there have been warnings that older voters are in play. To be sure, Trump has solid support among older adults, but his campaign has seen a drop-off in its internal research, according to campaign aides, and some public polls suggest Democrat Joe Biden is running ahead or just even with Trump.
The Villages, where the median age is 66, is built on the American dream of a golden retirement. “We’ve created the backdrop of possibilities for you to write the next chapter in your story,” its website says.
Retirees can enjoy everything from golf to seminars on Mark Twain to drinking a cold beverage in the town square while listening to a “jamgrass” band (progressive bluegrass in the vein of Phish).
Politically, it long has been considered a conservative redoubt, so entrenched that it’s a must-stop for any national or statewide Republican running for office. One clear measure of its importance: Vice President Mike Pence’s scheduled visit Saturday.
The Morse family, which developed the community northwest of Orlando, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns over the years. During the 2008 presidential race, GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin drew a stadium-sized crowd with 60,000 residents flocking to see her in one of the community’s town squares.
Last fall, Trump picked The Villages to promote his support for Medicare and its private insurance option.
But on Wednesday, the scene told a markedly different story. An armada of as many as 500 golf carts gathered at the Sea Breeze Recreation Center to caravan to the nearby elections office, so folks could drop off ballots for Biden.
As each cart rolled into the parking lot and slid a ballot into a locked box under the watchful eye of elections supervisors, dozens lined the sidewalk, cheering and clapping every time a vote was cast.
“I think we all came out of the closet for this election,” said Branscom.
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