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I-4 Corridor Election Series: Hillsborough County

Oct 28, 2016

As we continue our series on the impact of the Interstate 4 corridor on the presidential election, we take a closer look at the biggest county - Hillsborough.

Hillsborough County is considered so vital to the national election that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have already held seven rallies here. 

The Tampa Convention Center. Ybor City's Ritz Theater. Downtown Tampa. The University of South Florida - twice. And the Florida State Fairgrounds - twice.

"We had 12,000 and 4,000 or 5,000 outside, tonight I guess we have much more than that - we have thousands of people outside. So something's happening," Trump said during a visit to the USF Sun Dome in February. Ten thousand packed the arena, while several thousand others were turned away at the gate.

And earlier this year, Hillary Clinton campaigned before a couple thousand people at Tampa's Ybor City.

"So right here in Tampa, in front of the mayor, I want to tell you if I'm your president, we're going to make investments in this port, we're going to go back and look at high-speed rail," she said.

And why were they here? USF political scientist Susan MacManus says Hillsborough is filled with conservative Midwesterners, progressive urbanites, new immigrants from the Caribbean and South America, and third-and-fourth generation Cuban-Americans.

"Hillsborough County itself is often considered the best bellwether of Florida- the old saying has been, particularly in presidential elections - that as Hillsborough goes, so goes Florida, as Florida goes, so goes the nation," she said.

Hillsborough is about 18 percent black and 27 percent Hispanic, including a growing community of Puerto Ricans. Then, there's what MacManus calls the three key areas targeted by political operatives:

"From an age perspective, a geographical perspective, and a racial and ethnic perspective, Hillsborough looks more like the state than any other single county, and it's very divided, and very competitive," she said.

Trump supporters at his campaign stop at the Florida State Fairgrounds
Credit Daylina Miller / WUSF News

If you want to come to the urban heart of Tampa, you have to come to Ybor City. This is the historic Latin quarter that was founded by cigar workers fleeing from Cuba around 150 years ago. Inside a handsome brick building with a balcony overhead, Hillary Clinton supporters held a roundtable with Hispanic entrepreneurs.

One of the participants was attorney Karen Skyers. She's bilingual, and when she studied at Florida A&M University, she was part of the Black and Hispanic Law Student Associations.

"And I think that she is definitely putting a plan into place, she's describing herself as the small business president," she said of Clinton.

On the other hand, Skyers doesn't think the Republican candidate treats small business people very well.

"Donald Trump sees them as extortion targets, building his empire for pennies on the dollar."

Fifteen miles east on I-4 is a whole different world. There, outside the Parkesdale Market grove stand on U.S. 92 in Plant City , Thad Diaz of Tampa says he doesn't like either of the main candidates, who seem to focus more on personality quirks than the issues.

"One's a megalomaniac comic supervillian, and the other one's a narcissistic (bleep) that's going to run the country into the ground, in my opinion."

Diaz says instead, he's looking at casting his ballot for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

And even though Hillary Clinton's lead is increasing in national polls, MacManus says these differences shine a spotlight on the uncertainty of the I-4 corridor.

"And let me tell you, this election is far from done."

And that, she says, is why the I-4 corridor reflects the entire country.

Donald Trump campaigns at the USF Sun Dome in February, 2016
Credit Christopher Collier / WUSF News