It was no surprise that the 2016 presidential election results map for the Tampa Bay Area had more red than blue. But the percentage of voters who opted for the Republican candidate, now President Donald Trump, was higher in almost every county compared to the 2012 presidential election.
A couple of months into Trump’s presidency 10News went to Highlands County, which voted 65 percent for Trump, to check in with voters. At the Sebring Chamber of Commerce, a room of nine people was almost split down the middle. Five out of nine voted for Trump, still support him, and think he has done an excellent job so far.
Their opinions on healthcare, the travel ban, and the wall were split along party lines with Trump voters supporting his actions and the rest staunchly opposed.
Perhaps the most notable differences were in response to questions about whether they believed Mexico would pay for the wall and their definition of ‘fake news.’
“The fake news is supported and supplied by the Democrats and the Socialists. So, there’s your fake news.” Penny Kocarek, a Trump supporter, said.
To that, Audrey Asciutto, a Democrat, replied, “Fake news is the far-right extremism that’s even pushed that notion out there.”
“Fake news is being used to describe anything you don’t agree with,” Laurie Murphy said.
The participants got into a more heated debate when they discussed how Trump’s proposed budget cuts would affect Highlands County residents.
The so-called ‘skinny budget’ calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to education, $2.5 billion in cuts to labor, and $4.7 billion in cuts to agriculture. At the same time Trump is proposing to increase military spending by $54 billion and put $2.6 billion for the construction of a Southern border wall.
Ingra Gardner, executive director of Nu Hope Elder Care Services, is especially worried about proposed cuts to senior services.
“This is what we're facing in Highlands County, a decrease in services. So, your elderly loved ones, perhaps they will end up in nursing homes, and then what? And then what?” Gardner asked those sitting on the other side of the table.
“I think our federal government's first job, though, is to keep Americans safe,” said Earl Claire, state committeeman for the Highlands County Republican Party of Florida. “If there's no America, where do you think our senior citizens would be?”
The divide in their opinions was stark.
“You can feel the tension in the room,” Gardner said.
But in the end, they expressed respect for each other and a willingness to work together for Highlands County.
“All of you look familiar. I'm glad you showed up today,” said Marvin Kahn, a Trump supporter. “I hope we can continue to get to know each other better.”